red lights


Still an Eagle, but flying
solo for a day

Don Henley
Ravinia Festival
Highland Park, IL
July 12, 2004

Don Henley
Don Henley

Story by Andy Argyrakis

The Eagles have called it quits, gotten back together, said goodbye again and are currently back on the road. That on again/off again relationship has afforded the group's most visible vocalist Don Henley a gainful solo career, which resurrected once again in the 2000s with the album Inside Job after an eleven-year break. Though the Eagles are still soaring on another leg of its latest reunion tour this summer (albeit at exorbitant ticket prices) Henley took a brief break to make his Ravinia Festival debut. The advantage to seeing the singer/songwriter/guitarist/drummer on his own was to hear more complete renderings of hits apart from the group, which during Eagles' sets is abbreviated to a predictable few (almost always "The Boys of Summer" and "Dirty Laundry"). Of course, even better news for Eagles' fans is many of its most popular songs featured Henley on lead, making moments from that career chapter ample in the show as well.
With cooperative weather, the gorgeous green surroundings and flawless acoustics that only Ravinia can offer to Chicagoland concertgoers, many of the selections fit right in with the season at hand. It was impossible not to raise a toast to the delightfully warm vibes conjured up from "Hotel California" or to let loose into party mode for "The Boys of Summer" (especially for a town that just held the cross town classic between the Cubs and Sox). And for a normally reserved guy, Henley used the elements to his advantage, cracking a few more jokes than usual and seeming like he was having just as much fun as those who flocked with blankets and picnic baskets to see him.
Equally powerful were punched up takes on "Sunset Grill" (also perfect for the always festive lawn) and "Dirty Laundry," both of which earned amplification from a well regulated six member backing band. Interestingly enough, these mid-80s staples didn't seem all that dated and have actually stood up with dignity over time. Of course, the same could be said about the much more benign tempered Eagles' tracks like "Desperado," which has become a generation spanning anthem.
Ballads like "The End of the Innocence" (the oddly framed story of an older man hanging around a young girl) and "New York Minute" (about a businessman's suicide due to life's pressures) brought a much more reflective mood to the night supported by Henley's cool glaze and firm delivery. It's too bad fellow slow song 'The Last Worthless Evening' didn't fair as well given its mundane subject matter and duller adult contemporary arrangements, nor did the call and response technique to Randy Newman's "Political Science," which didn't catch on as infectiously as the artist would've hoped. In fact, that problem reprised itself the Inside Job material, especially the sluggish "Taking You Home," a paint by the numbers approach at safe and sanitary soft rock.
Thankfully, the show's star was able to rebound with yet another Eagles' staple, the always-spirited "Life in the Fast Lane." If with his usual band mates, he would've normally been confined behind the drum kit, but instead maintained his front of stage position, rampaging through the punchy chorus with a tambourine. Aside from a few steps awry, Henley still drives fast enough to stay in the game, and with the hope for a more progressive turn with his next solo journey, should have no problem staying in flight until whenever he's ready to land.

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