Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (January 13, 2005)
While I enjoy his work, my favorite Don Henley moment is decidedly non-musical. I took a friend to see the Eagle play in September 2004. I guess the combination of the Virginia Beach setting and the start of Labor Day weekend brought out a rowdier crowd than usual, as many of the amassed 40-and-50-somethings in attendance seemed to have started drinking the prior Labor Day.
Henley didn’t talk a lot during the show, but when he did chime up, he tended to take his time. His three or four stories were fairly lengthy, and I guess some of the patrons wanted less talk and more rock. As Henley droned on about whatever, some boozed-up yahoo behind me shouted, “Play ball!”
It was damned amusing, but I guess you had to be there!
For those who weren’t there - or who’ve seen Henley and want to relive the experience - we can give Inside Job Live a spin. Shot on May 25, 2000 in front of a homestate Texas crowd, Job focuses mostly on Henley’s solo career. Off of his debut, 1982’s I Can’t Stand Still, we discover three numbers: “Dirty Laundry”, “Lilah” and “Talking to the Moon”. 1984’s hit Building the Perfect Beast offers two tunes: “The Boys of Summer” and “All She Wants to Do Is Dance”. Another smash, 1989’s The End of the Innocence, gives us its title tune plus “New York Minute” and “Heart of the Matter”.
This concert existed to promote 2000’s Inside Job - Henley’s first solo album in 11 years - so it doesn’t come as a surprise that it provides a fair number of tunes. We get five songs: “Workin’ It”, “Taking You Home”, “Everything Is Different Now”, “They’re Not Here, They’re Not Coming”, and “My Thanksgiving”. As for Henley’s Eagles tenure, three songs come from that era. Henley plays the title tunes from 1973’s Desperado, 1976’s Hotel California, and 1980’s The Long Run.
The DVD’s packaging doesn’t tell us this, but the concert comes as part of A&E’s Live By Request series. You also wouldn’t really be able to tell this from the performance itself. Whereas the other episodes I’ve seen include interaction between the artist and a host as well as phone calls from viewers, this one lacks all those elements.
Henley occasionally chats a little about his songs, but not to any substantial degree. There definitely are no “play ball” worthy stories on display. Instead, there’s absolutely nothing to differentiate this from a standard concert.
Since that’s what I thought I’d get when I bought Inside Job, I’m perfectly happy with that. I wanted a regular concert and that’s basically what I got. Nonetheless, I remain confused what makes this a Live By Request show since no on-air requests occur.
As for the quality of the performance, I’d describe it as quietly professional. That’s what you usually get from Henley. He seems unlikely to ever throw out a genuinely dynamic concert, partly due to the style of music he plays. Henley goes for a laid-back vibe much of the time, and that format doesn’t lend itself to charged, energized performances.
However, it might be nice to see a little more energy from Henley. After all, fellow Live By Request artist kd lang plays many very subdued songs, but she’s a delight in concert. Henley simply lacks much fire as a live performer, and that makes his shows enjoyable but without much zest.
Similar thoughts stretch to his band. They perfectly capable but they don’t demonstrate much personality. That’s one reason I prefer the Eagles to Henley on his own. He’s my favorite Eagle, but the others add spice to the shows, whereas Henley’s band is virtually anonymous.
I must say the man himself sounds absolutely great here. When we look at artists of his generation, most have lost a step or two - or 12 - vocally, but not Henley. He can still pull off a song as old as “Desperado” and make it sound like the album version. Henley’s vocals are so strong during Job that I occasionally wondered if they were redone later. He really sounds terrific.
I think Job could have used a setlist with a little more variety, but that’s the Eagles fan in me. I prefer their work, so of course I’d like to hear more than just three of those tracks. However, I understand Henley’s desire to accentuate his solo career, and I do like most of the numbers he plays here.
Some fall into the category of “well-meaning but bland” like “Lilah”, but there’s a nice representation of styles on display. As expected, there’s an emphasis on laid-back tracks such as “End of the Innocence” and “New York Minute”. Henley enlivens things decently with peppier numbers ala “Dirty Laundry” and “All She Wants to Do Is Dance”. Although both stress quieter tracks, Job seems better paced than the Eagles’ Hell Freezes Over. The latter heavily emphasizes softer tunes until its very end, by which point we’ve nodded into a coma. Job kicks in enough energy every once in a while to make sure we stay with it.
The majority of the songs cling pretty closely to their studio renditions, with one notable exception: the show-closing “Hotel California”. Here Henley presents a reggae-inflicted version of the classic. It flops, but I’ll give him credit for the attempt to do something different with an old stalwart.
As one might expect from such understated music, Job receives a restrained visual presentation. It’s all slow tracking shots and zooms without any spastic qualities. That’s perfectly appropriate and very welcome, as the director resists any urges to “liven up” the show with hyperactive cutting or weird effects.
Inside Job isn’t a program that seems likely to make Don Henley any new fans, but it should please those who already enjoy his work and also work well for folks who want a “greatest hits” package of his solo material. A classy and well-produced replication of a concert, it boasts quality music played well, if without a great deal of zest. You shouldn’t expect to be bowled over, but you’ll probably dig this good performance.