Don Henley & Jewel – Vector Arena March 23, 2017

On just one night in Auckland, it could be said that the city’s musical cup runneth over with the creative talents of songwriters and performers Adele, Don Henley and Jewel all on offer.

At Auckland’s Vector Arena, in front of a wide range of ages and a near-capacity audience, Don Henley and his band followed a sensitive but powerful opening performance by Jewel.

This beautiful, unpretentious folk songstress- and proud mother- covered in a short time, her major hits including Hands, Here When Gone and Foolish Games. These, alongside an opening acapella rendition of Somewhere over the Rainbow and a yodelling finale, demonstrated Jewel’s vocal dexterity – from her vocal and musical range to her rhythm, phrasing, and diverse tones. Her songs were interspersed with charming and, often, frank stories of leaving Alaska as a young girl, subsequent homelessness and then escaping the poverty trap with her first hit, Hands.

Her quick repost to a male audience member who repeatedly insisted that she sing Stevie Nicks’ songs, showed a relaxed humour when she responded “I can see why there’s no female sitting next to you”. As she signed off her impressive set she promised the audience a treat in Henley whom she described as an American icon whose songs she grew up singing with her father.

After a recorded introductory medley that took the audience from the 1930s in America to the mid-70s (including the sounds of Glen Miller, Elvis, Curtis Mayfield, James Brown, The Beatles and the voices of JFK and Martin Luther King), there was a warm Auckland welcome for Don Henley and his 10- piece band (later adding a 5-piece brass section). Don announced that he planned to take the audience on a two-hour musical journey covering the last 40 years of his creative output.

What transpired was indeed a wide range of music- from the killer percussion and rhythm in Dirty Laundry which got the audience heartbeat pumping, to the beautiful reflective masterpiece that is In a New York Minute, to the stunning, multi-layered, colossal guitar playing of Life In The Fast Lane and the ever-iconic Hotel California. 

In the encore there was a touching tribute to a loss in Henley’s life that still feels painfully ongoing, namely the death of fellow Eagles’ member Glenn Frey in January 2016. That edge of sadness only added to the piquancy of Henley’s  songs of lament and love of the 70s – Desperado and Wasted Time. By contrast, an unexpected addition to the musical line-up was the 1985 hit Rule the World, which he said the band liked to play just because it makes them feel joyous.

As Henley’s performance unfolded, there seemed to emerge three apparent streams of musical style and composition, of which one stood out as closer to his heart.

The first stream, wherein lay his clear affection, were certain songs delivered ensemble-style from his 2015 album Cass County (his home of origin). These were epitomised by That Old Flame and Bramble Rose, among other Nashville songs including When I Stop Dreaming. I had a sense that these songs are somehow helping Don to complete the circle and return to his roots, from the life-long journey that has taken him to large world stadia, especially in the heyday of the enormous success of the Eagles in the late-70’s and 80’s.

In his tenderly-rendered Bramble Rose, accompanied by one of three impressive young female singers – with the powerful, resonant voice of Lara Johnson a stand-out-  it was as if visually, and audibly, Don was in a small local bar in Cass County.

The second musical stream of the night derived from the pop-rock singles of the 1980s including Dirty Laundry, Shangri-La, Boys Of Summer.  Although played with skill and musicality, this lineage of songs seemed a lesser expression of Don Henley’s significant talents.

The night’s third musical stream comprised both lyrical and composition masterpieces from his solo career. This included In A NY Minute and The End of The Innocence . There were also some heavy-hitters from the Eagles’ back catalogue such as Witchy Woman, One Of These Nights, The Last Resort, Life In The Fast Lane and Hotel California.

It all mixed together to give the impression of one man’s extraordinary lyrical and musical output, as well as the poetic, romantic and philosophical undertones to his lyricism. His talent is for multi-layered musical composition amplified by powerful, poignant guitar, and  backed by nuanced piano with, often, driving rhythm and percussion.

Don Henley’s tenor voice, with its distinct reediness, enriched and enhanced many of the classics.  And I felt an equally fine artistic touch from his band, including his long-term collaborator, the gifted guitarist Steuart Smith.

Don is 70 in 3 months or so. He is proof that when it comes to creativity and connecting with, and inspiring, an audience, age is merely a number, and an irrelevant one at that.

The quality of the contributions to a fine musical night in Auckland from Don, and earlier, Jewel, remind us all that finely-honed music is a universal, uniting, and above all, timeless language.

Overall, I would paraphrase the man himself and describe it as One of These Special Nights.

Gerard Doolin

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Gerard and Sabine Doohlin