Tuesday night at Ruth Eckerd Hall might be the closest to hell freezing over again that Tampa Bay will ever get.
Glenn Frey is dead. Joe Walsh just played Las Vegas. And who knows where the other Eagles are these days?
Don Henley is right where fans want him, front and center stage doling out musical musings on witchy women and desperadoes like his legacy depends on it. Nearly half of Henley's more than two hour set was devoted to Eagles hits, climaxing with a grand slam of encores dedicated to Frey.
Grander were times when Henley reminded listeners why he flew the Eagles coop in 1980 for a more expansive sound and deeper reveries being shuttered within. Backed by 15 instruments including horn section, Henley can stack his solo catalog of bubble-headed bleached blonds and Deadhead stickers on Cadillacs against anyone's.
For good measure and his own pleasure, Henley tossed in a Chris Gaines cover (i.e. Garth Brooks' rock folly) and a Louvin Brothers classic. Let me tell you, the inauguration isn't over until you hear Henley covering Tears for Fears' Everybody Wants to Rule the World.
"We're doing it for therapy these days," Henley said, raising a partisan cheer from the capacity crowd.
Stepping on stage beneath antique radios suspended on wires overhead, Henley kicked off the show Eagles-style with Seven Bridges Road in glorious nine-part harmony. He aired Dirty Laundry with hand-clap contagion before dipping into his 2015 album Cass County for That Old Flame about "a girl who looked me up who I used to date in the 80's."
Henley prefaced several songs with stories behind them, a light-hearted touch that would've been unlikely in younger, flintier days. His aria of 80's SoCal desperation, Sunset Grill, reminded Henley of a Velveeta cheese brick the owner would slice for burgers. The Last Resort's leg-sweep takedown of Aspen-izing nature ("Somebody laid the mountains low while the town got high") ended on a note of dry wit:
"I know you get tired of hearing songs about manifest destiny," Henley said. "You hear them on the radio every day."
The contrast between Henley's Eagles material and solo oeuvre was starkest when presented back-to-back: One of These Nights sounds elementary next to New York Minute with its suicidal stock brokers and muted trumpet, or the staccato horn riffs of Shangri-La. Henley can still hits the howls on Witchy Woman but he's more emotionally connected singing The End the Innocence, The Heart of the Matter and The Boys of Summer. At 69, Henley still cuts a vigorous figure on stage, his voice slightly pinched by age yet supple when it counts.
After a blistering first encore combo of Life in the Fast Lane and Hotel California — Steuart Smith does a mean Walsh imitation — Henley wrapped the evening on quieter notes:
"I think it would be appropriate to close by thanking everyone for your messages of love and condolences" after Frey's death a year and one week ago. A piano plinked the first notes of Wasted Time co-written with Frey, about love, loss and maybes. Desperado sustained that tender tone with advice to "let somebody love you before it's too late."
It's safe to say everyone Tuesday night loved Don Henley, the guy who famously groused Eagles would reunite "when hell freezes over." That did happen but can never again, making a show like Tuesday's the next best thing to heaven.
Contact Steve Persall at [email protected] or (727) 893-8365. Follow @StevePersall.