Ex-Eagles member Don Henley performs at Sugar Land's Smart Financial Centre
By: Andrew Dansby, Houston Chronicle
The ghosts showed up early at Don Henley's Sunday night performance at the Smart Financial Centre in Sugar Land. Henley opened with s sublime "Seven Bridges Road," written by Steve Young, a brilliant troubadour who penned some of the best country-ish songs of the '70s.
Young died last year, and Glenn Frey's spirit is never far away at a Henley show. Henley's old Eagles collaborator died a year ago Wednesday, shutting down future Eagles endeavors, with or without the presence of ice in Hell.
I anticipated a show heavy on the new "Cass County," the countriest record of Henley's career with its title referencing his east Texas roots. Instead, Henley chose a more celebratory tone for his show that generously touched on all parts of his nearly 50-year career. "Three for you one for me,"' he said dealing Eagles tunes like "Witchy Woman" and "One of These Nights," while making room for "Shangri La."
"Cass County" is an autumnal album with numerous references to the passage of time. It also bristles with defiance: "Though nostalgia is fine, I respectfully decline to spend my future living in the past," goes one lyric.
Henley mined the past Sunday but only partially to nostalgic effect. His more pointed commentary songs -- "Dirty Laundry," "The Boys of Summer," "The End of the Innocence" -- have a frustrating resonance decades later, which he recognizes.
Even the Eagles crowd pleasers bear different weight years later, especially in light of Frey's death. Several Eagles standards were written by these two birds of a feather despite hailing from Texas and Michigan. A testament to Los Angeles' facilitation of reinvention these two came to define a specific strain of rootsy California pop. That's a particularly American sort of success story.
The struggles over band identity that did the band in also speak to our culture, then as well as now. And the irony of breaking up after releasing an album called "The Long Run."
So one could call the tone of Henley's show nostalgic, though reflective may be the better word. He just released his first album in 15 years, and he doesn't tour often. He's seen collaborators fade away, including the one with whom he achieved cultural ubiquity.
Kenny Rogers, the guy who took Henley's pre-Eagles band to Los Angeles, is on a farewell tour. All of this time and movement and change is baked into "Cass County." But live the 69-year-old Henley kept the mood less funereal. There's no reason to think this tour is his last go-round. But then again a year ago nobody really anticipated Frey shuffling away.
So when he could, Henley last night looked to dig into the past to comment on the present. He struck an admirable balance that scratched nostalgic itches for some of those in the crowd without letting itching and scratching define the performance.
The venue also bears mention, as Henley's show was the first real concert at the Smart Financial Centre, one night after Jerry Seinfeld did two nights of comedy.
The venue boasted gorgeous sound, rich whether nine voices on seven bridges or four guitars two keys bass and drums with five piece brass.
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