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Don Henley Smooths the Fans.7/18/00 Berkeley,CA.


.......Don Henley has always been a conflicted artist, torn between the virtues of rock and easy listening, simplicity and excess, austerity and greed. At his best, the constant back-and-forth produced sounds that epitomized certain eras in the '70s and '80s.
.......At the Berkeley Community Theatre on Tuesday night, comparing the Eagles to the Beatles sounds like a stretch, consider that the California country-rockers defined the '70s in much the same way as the Fab Four did the '60s. With a series of indelible songs, the Eagles captured their era's self-centered party spirit and how it eroded into cocaine-fueled decadence better than almost any other band. The 52-year-old Henley has played a similar role as a solo performer, chronicling his generation's triumphs with withering directness on four solo albums spread over 18 years.
.......Performing under a red-curtained, stained-glass, faux-cathedral stage set, the singer was joined by a core seven-piece band, a seven-piece horn section, an 11-member gospel choir, and two Irish folk players who were trotted out for a version of the traditional "Lyla." That's a total of 28 musicians on stage. Henley only managed to prompt the crowd out of its comfortable $86 seats a handful of times during a 2 1/2-hour performance.
........Mostly while delivering the predictable Eagles hits: a rollicking version of "Life in the Fast Lane," a rote take on "The Long Run" and a reworking of "Hotel California" that pretended to be something new but really just added a ska horn section that trampled all over the haunting qualities of the tune's consumer-as-cannibal nightmare. The rest of the long set list was devoted to '80s solo hits ("The End of the Innocence," "Dirty Laundry") and tracks from the new album "Inside Job." such as "Nobody Else in the World But You" and "Everything Is Different Now."
......You've got to give Henley, who turns 53 on Saturday, credit for his longtime commitment to environmental issues, a commitment that seems to run far deeper than the usual Hollywood celebrity endorsement of the cause of the day. He donated tonight show to this cause.
.......The Eagles' music always displayed a frightening precision--the sure hand of top-flight surgeons at work. Henley's music was challenging himself as a vocalist came during "They're Not Here, They're Not Coming." A funny and sarcastic new tune suggesting that aliens would never want to visit a Chicken McNuggets, Oprah Winfrey-dominated world where radio won't play George Jones or Merle Haggard.
.........Henley compensated with textural details, employing a gospel choir, a string quartet, a handful of Celtic musicians and a horn section. Henley and company produced a big, warm sound, and the soulful gospel choir added extra energy and excitement by dancing up a storm. "Sunset Grill" and "Boys of Summer" captured the sun-glazed exhaustion of early '80s California, "The Heart of the Matter" ached for "forgiveness" , and "For My Wedding" and "Everything is Different Now" greeted the new century with optimism. Don Henley didn't sound very happy. If this evening was about anything, it was about an artist who takes his work-and himself-very, very seriously.

By Randy Cohen

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