ST. PETERSBURG — There was a time when the smell at a Don Henley performance, especially when he was the high-haired drummer for the Eagles, was smoky and suspicious, illicit testament to his denim roots as a SoCal roots-rock wild child.
But at the opening night of the "new" Mahaffey Theater on Friday, there was a different odor wafting in the air as the 64-year-old Henley took the stage: coconut mango a.k.a. the "signature scent" of the downtown venue as reimagined by new manager Bill Edwards of Big 3 Entertainment.
"Welcome to your new theater," Edwards told the near-capacity, and relative gray-haired, crowd before the start of the show. "This is your theater."
The truth, however, is that the Mahaffey is very much Edwards' house, and the local music impresario is the man in charge of changing the staid culture. He put $2 million into the place: slick new dressing rooms, a Vegas-style VIP lounge, related fancy trimmings here and there.
But as paradisiacal as that coconut-mango stink may in fact be, the only way he's going to consistently get fannies in seats — Henley wasn't sold out, although the theater, which seats 2,000 and change, looked close to capacity — is by luring bold-faced names to come and sing for the masses.
Henley is a good start, at least for well-heeled ticket-buyers who are able to shell out $100-plus a ticket (top price was $175) but still remember how to rock. It'll be interesting to see how R&B eccentric Cee Lo Green, a guy who skews younger, draws when he gets Crazy on Dec. 28.
For now, though, things look promising. And, as a guy who goes to a ton of concerts, I have to say that things sound even better, the acoustics crisp and clear but still packing a nice pop oomph.
Of course, ol' Don has always been a perfectionist; he doesn't take too kindly to things sounding lousy. And he made sure his six-piece band hit every familiar famous note during the casual but good-natured 100-minute gig, from the wickedly ominous thump of opening number Dirty Laundry to the piano of that lonely encore weeper Desperado.
Henley, who in solo mode feels no pull to climb behind the skins, stood front and center, belting out the know-'em-by-hearters in a voice that sounds relatively untouched by time. He can still hit the soft, high notes, too, which made The End of the Innocence and The Heart of the Matter far more enjoyable without having to worry about Father Time cruelly messing with the chorus.
The Last Worthless Evening was the best solo cut of the night, but mainly for the story that preceded it, a Hollywood-party tale of the rocker unsuccessfully hitting on a woman actor — who was already being hit on by Jack Nicholson, who daggers the unlucky singer with a kiss-off line: "Excellent work, Henley."
The crowd sat more than it stood, but they always lifted for the Eagles cuts: Witchy Woman, One of These Nights, which Henley said was written in Miami. And a boom-boom-boom finish — including Life in the Fast Lane and Hotel California — had the whole joint doing their best to shake it like in ye olden days.
It should be noted that before Henley, a rock hall of famer and one of the icons of American music, got too far into his set, he said, "I'd like to thank Mr. Bill Edwards for bringing us here."
Yep, this is Edwards' house now. You can smell it in the air.
Sean can be reached at [email protected] or (727) 893-8467. Follow him on Twitter (@seandalypoplife) and Facebook (facebook.com/seandaly.tampabay).