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Henley remains a breed apart

Blue Hills Pavilion, Boston, June 6, 2017

Reviewed by Jeffrey B. Remz

Other recent concert reviews
Don Henley is a rare breed. The Texan is one of the founding members of the Eagles. But Henley also has managed to forge a longstanding solo career, the most successful of the Eagles to do so.

When the band isn't touring, Henley sometimes spends time on his own career, releasing 5 albums in 33 years. While the Eagles are part of the Classic East and West stadium gigs this summer, Henley is out touring on his own in between band practices.

On the first date of his current U.S. tour, Henley showed virtually no rough spots over the course of two hours, starting with a sterling take of his usual concert opener "Seven Bridges Road" with eight members of his extremely large band surrounding him for an a capella version.

And with that, Henley would bring it with new and old material. The Eagles songs, which included a few tributes to the late Glenn Frey ("Desperado" and "Peaceful, Easy Feeling" as the closing one-two punch of the second encore) at the end of the night, sounded vibrant even decades later. While associated with the California sound and later on with country (that's how much country has changed over the decades), one could have imagined the Bee Gees singing "One of These Nights" with its disco-infused interlude.

Yet, there were unexpected gems like "The Last Resort," one of the best of the night.

His own material also has stood the test of time ("The Heart of the Matter" and "The End of the Innocence" stood out), although the keyboards-laden "Sunset Grill" sounded a bit too commercial.

Henley seemed more at ease in engaging the crowd and enjoying himself than he did last time around. To underscore that, he played a snippet of "The Christmas Song" (that's the "chestnuts roasting" song of Nat King Cole). One might think that odd, but considering that the day brought record-low temperatures to Boston in the 40s, label that a cute move from Henley, who was dressed in a heavy jacket.

Henley employed a 14-piece band, including a horns quintet utilized intermittently. They added a lot of zip to the songs.

So did the rest of the group, particularly ace guitarists Steuart Smith and Chris Holt, who shared lead stints. Three backing female vocalists, who rhythmically moved in synch throughout the night, helped support Henley's vocals, still strong at 68. Erica Swindell, who played fiddle on a number of songs, was a particular asset. Mandolin and pedal steel gave the music a country tinge.

If Henley could be faulted, it was that the evening was more of a greatest hits show of Eagles and solo material. While he released the very fine "Cass County" country CD a bit less than two years ago, Henley only played two songs from it with "It Don't Matter to the Sun" only on the deluxe version. While different songs, that was the same number he played at last September's show. (Henley switched up the set list a bit from last time).

Henley may be suffering the same conundrum as many other vintage artists. They may put out new material - even of high quality as in Henley's case - but without airplay (oh so hard for older artists), fans are not going to know or maybe even want to hear the new material. They're into the hits. What is an artist to do?

In the case of Henley, he is fortunate enough to have maintained his trademark vocals while also having a plethora of material both old and new. And when is not doing gigs with Eagles, performing as Don Henley is not so bad either.

JD & The Straight Shot opened with a set that featured somewhat rootsy, sometimes bluesy, even a bit country-flavored, material. While the songs may not have been particularly unique, they satisfied. JD, aka James Dolan, who is better known as the owner of the New York Knicks and being part of the family that owns Cablevision, is a low-key front man, who seems to really enjoy the music. He threw a few treats to the crowd in the form of two world premiere songs.

But he is no more than an adequate vocalist, a bit rough around the edges. Fortunately, he benefits from a good band, including violinist and vocalist Erin Slaver. Dolan and Slaver hit the mark on the duet "Better Find a Church."