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Concert Reviews:
Don Henley presents a musical adventure at the Fox Theatre

Posted: Sunday, November 8, 2015

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DETROIT -- Early during his concert Saturday night, Nov. 7, Don Henley promised -- or warned -- the Fox Theatre crowd that "We're gonna be all over the musical map tonight."

He wasn't kidding -- and not just about the music.

Henley's largely superb two-and-a-half-hour show was designed as both a showcase for his latest album, "Cass County," as well as an adventure for music lovers seeking surprises. He was ready to enforce the attention that required, too, as patrons were forbidden from using cell phones at all inside the theater and standing and dancing were encouraged until the final encore -- appropriately, "All She Wants To Do Is Dance."

And at the start of the band introductions, Henley kicked one fan out of the orchestra pit after taking exception to a remark the man made; he instructed security to usher him out, promising "a full refund...in dollars and in karma." He apologized to the rest of the crowd for the incident and carried on with the introductions. (In the Fox lobby afterward the booted man claimed he was responding to another fan seated nearby who threatened him for requesting Henley play more old material.)

That blip aside, Henley -- who came through town during July with the Eagles at Joe Louis Arena -- turned in a stirring performance that was in many ways his most fully realized show since he began touring as a solo artist during 1984. Save for the opening "Seven Bridges Road" (actually a Steve Young song recorded by the Eagles), there was no Eagles material in the carefully sequenced 23-song set. Henley didn't play drums, either, sticking to vocals and guitar, and the 15-piece ensemble, which included three backup singers and, for a handful of songs, a five-piece horn section, delivered rich arrangements of 80s and 90s favorites such as "Dirty Laundry," "The End of the Innocence," "The Heart of the Matter," "The Last Worthless Evening" and "The Boys of Summer" as well as the 10 "Cass County" selections.

With some three dozen old-time radios hanging above the stage, Henley bolstered those with insightful and occasionally lengthy introductions and backstories, talking about droughts in Texas and California before "Praying For Rain" and the true-life inspiration for "That Old Flame," as and about working in his father's auto parts shop and his love of the now-defunct Pontiac car brand. Tossing out glib, self-deprecating asides, he spoke about the all-star duet partners on the album (Mick Jagger, Miranda Lambert, Dolly Parton, Martina McBride, Merle Haggard) while his backup singers credibly covered most of their parts.

And the nostalgic, sentimental story he told about his boyhood in east Texas before "Train in the Distance" was nearly worth the price of admission; how man times, after all, do you hear T.S. Eliiot quoted at a rock concert. Henley and his band members performed Tift Merritt's "Bramble Rose" and Garth Brook's "It Don't Matter to the Sun" in an unplugged, "group singing" configuration at the front of the stage, and he also surprised the crowd with a faithful rendition of Tears For Fears' "Everybody Wants to Rule the World," which was paired nicely with the politically minded "Shangri-La," a deep cut from his 1989 album "The End of the Innocence."

So when Henley finally "let" the audience dance at the end of the night, it carried a degree of symbolism -- a reward for good, and attentive, behavior, and a celebration of a thoughtful presentation of one man's wide-ranging body of work.

Send your thoughts and comments to Gary Graff


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