Paramount Theater - Oakland, CA March 18, 2001



The Fillmore - San Francisco, CA March 24, 2001

You may have heard it said that no matter how many stellar musicians, singers, lighting and special effects grace a stage, the most important and crucial member of a live band is the Sound Guy. If he/she sucks, no matter how great the songs are or how amazingly they are performed, the magic gets lost in the translation. Never has this been proven with such unfortunate clarity as on the last night of Don Henley's year long "Inside Job" tour. Although his baby-boomer fans were treated to a 2 hour and 20 minute set (!) of pristinely recreated record-perfect versions of hit after hit of his Eagles and solo efforts, the lead vocals were so low in the mix throughout most of the show, it was difficult to make out the lyrics or grasp the subtle nuances of power, passion, and intimate emotion that is the voice of Don Henley. Having taken a ride on the Southern leg of this "Inside Job" tour just 6 months ago, (when I was still living in Nashville, TN - the songwriting capital of the world, a fitting backdrop for one of the greatest American songwriters of this generation) I had already been treated to a perfectly mixed Henley soufle', (complete with an animated, gospel choir backing him up) that alternately brought me to my feet and moved me to tears. Sadly, this well-intentioned swan song delivered quantity over quality for this reviewer/fan/self-appointed protégé. ( I wanted to DECK that "Sound Guy", man!) {See future installments of Ms. Gold's "Almost Famous" column for more details of her LA, NY ,and Nashville exploits- G.M.}

Not that any of this seemed to matter to the forty/fifty-something crowd (I could re-claim my "younger woman" title for the night!) who came to pay tribute to the former poster child for '70's Southern California decadence, now the crown prince of domestic middle-aged bliss. He had them in the palm of his hand from the moment the band began the first strains of "Dirty Laundry", a direct hit against the media's misuse of power from his first solo album. "Sunset Grill" from his next solo effort, a wistful metaphor for the LA 80's "Me Generation", suffered from the "must have been on crack" sound guy, who gave the guitar solos more punch than anything else in the song. Don then addressed the crowd , appearing relaxed and ready to deliver the goods for his farewell to the road. He intro- duced the latest (and strongest) single off his album "Inside Job", "Everything's Different Now", in which he accepts true love with the right woman as the ultimate happiness, "since I got a telegram from the god of simple things" ( a line every songwriter should be so lucky to channel in their lifetime!). This was a softer, gentler Don, (well, sort of - earlier in this tour he did throw something at a woman in the audience who tried to take his picture and hit her in the head , but hey, nobody's perfect) who really seemed to want to share this story, but the intimacy he strove to achieve looked as if perhaps he was ' bending down to try and hear himself better in his vocal monitor. The acapella gospel vocals at the end provided by the three male background singers and most of the band was a fitting touch.

From there he went into the brilliant rescue fantasy "Last Worthless Evening" off of "The End Of The Innocence" (his 3rd and best solo effort), "Workin' It" a typical Henley slam against corporate America off his new album , and the undisputable 3 minute movie, "New York Minute" (which I just heard used on "The West Wing"), where the sound guy from hell finally began to figure out what all those knobs were for and the vocals (and lyrics!) could be heard. This is what the fans came for - and he proceeded to give it to them until the 6th encore. He did the title track off "Inside Job", which he claimed "scared his record company (?) , an acoustic version of his only song by an outside writer, Larry Jon McNally, the sentimental "For My Wedding", and then a note-for-note duplication of "The Boys Of Summer" which drove the audience nuts with recognition from the opening drum sequence (and me nuts, because those drums were muffled behind one of those wimpy plastic shields.) For the Eagles fans in the house (hint: ALL), he brought the butt-shakin' baby boomers to their feet with "Life In The Fast Lane", and went back and forth between his solo and Eagles hits, like "Heart of the Matter", (after which his "I'm Ricky Martin, baby!" percussion player took a lengthy solo), "All She Wants To Do Is Dance", "The Long Run" and a horn-enhanced salsa version of "Hotel California" while the sound guy was experimenting with ways to prove how low the vocals could go again. The 6 (!) encores were the best sounding and most effective part of the evening. The beautiful "Wasted Time" was Henley's shining vocal moment and "The End Of The Innocence" is still a songwriting masterpiece that especially rings true given our current political and social climate. Even though his voice cracked during the ironically placed "I Will Not Go Quietly", when Henley told the still enraptured crowd that he was "turning 54 in July, thank you for 30 years and it ain't over yet", nobody could argue with the some- what transformed cynic, who now calls every day "My Thanksgiving". Closing with the Eagles classic "Desperado", Don Henley sent his disciples home and called it a year.


Some artists need nothing more than an acoustic guitar, their voice and their vibe to hold a large audience happy hostage in a less than intimate setting. Chris Whitley, Jill Sobule, and Rickie Lee Jones come to mind. Unpredictable, quirky and dynamic, they have that uncanny ability to draw you in and keep you there with nothing more than the power of their songs and their unique personality. Other artists, although no less talented or revered, would do better to add other elements to their stage show or wisely choose a smaller, more personal venue (with seats!) to cast a spell that lasts. Such was the case when Suzanne Vega took the stage to greet a sold-out crowd at the famous Fillmore, a large nightclub with no real seating. Backed only by her acoustic guitar and a bass player and flanked by a couple of floral arrangements, Suzanne played an hour and twenty minute set , that while sonically pleasing and flawlessly delivered, remained one- dimensional throughout. The fans squealed with recognition at early songs like "Small Blue Thing" and the haunting "The Queen And The Soldier" off her debut self titled album, which translated well because this was how she recorded them, sparse and with little effect. Suzanne is a stellar acoustic guitar player and has a very distinctive and pleasant, if low key and somewhat limited vocal delivery. It is her trademark. It is not, however , what you would describe as dynamic. She made great use of this by adding contemporary production techniques like drum loops, quirky electric guitar sounds and background vocals on her later records, like 99.2.

But when she switched to songs from this era, during the show, like "When Heroes Go Down" and "Rock In My Pocket", I began to long for that Ricky Martin-ish percussion player dude from Don Henley's band - or a chair to sit down. Her speaking voice and stage personality mirrored her singing delivery, and when she spoke to the audience, like when she told a story before "In Liverpool", it was a barely audible monotone. Much of the audience drifted off to the bar or carried on conversations as the set progressed. We had to give dirty looks to these really tall guys speaking what sounded like German because they were talking so loud we couldn't hear. Finally, we had to go to the back of the club and sit on the floor. When she got to her hits, "Luka", the still affecting song about child abuse, and "Tom's Diner", which she performed acapella and let the audience sing the "doo-doo-doo-doo, duh duh, doo- doo" part, it was nice but the straight line had run it's course. Ironically, she seemed to gain a bit of energy during the encore, but by then it was definitely time to say good-night. But we had been given "After Show" passes and were directed to go upstairs to what we assumed was a typical reception. Instead, we sat at tables with no bar available, no food or beverages of any kind provided, and waited with several really quiet, non-press looking folks with posters and books to be signed (Fan-club members? Radio contest winners? "Zine-writers"?) for Ms. Vega to appear.

She finally came out with a beer in her hand (Hey, what about us??) and sat down with a guy at her side (her manager? bodyguard? Party planner?) People kind of gathered around her and they began to ask her questions in hushed tones, which she answered in that same, almost inaudible monotone and we could barely hear a thing! Meanwhile, the rowdy cleaning crew downstairs was making a huge racket and the club started blasting Ministry or something really loud through the main speakers so we REALLY couldn't hear!! It was totally surreal, like everyone around us was on Lithium. "The Bored Leading The Bored"!! We couldn't tell if Suzanne was just being polite - or if she was as bored (or boring) as these weird people! Some guy started talking to her about motorcycles (MOTORCYCLES??) and she carried on this, like, 10 minute BORING conversation with him! Finally, we went up to her, introduced ourselves and gave her a copy of the Herald (we were press, man!), said we enjoyed the show , thanked her and got the hell out of there...


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