By MARK GUARINO | Chicago Sun-Times
Dressed in a black suit, tie and crisp white shirt, Don Henley looked like one of the Men in Black. That or a maître d’.
But instead of busting aliens or taking hotel reservations, Henley was coolly providing an efficient review of his greatest solo hits from 20-plus years in the past. Monday night at the Rosemont Theatre, the matter of course was about keeping the customer happy while showing that a few finds in his catalog still have teeth.
Henley’s handful of solo albums sounded more purposeful and largely discontented. The 17-song set concentrated primarily on just two of these four albums, released between 1984 and 1989. (His last solo album, released in 2000, was ignored.)
The discovery came when a few songs still hit their targets. For “Dirty Laundry,” Henley’s 1982 indictment against media vultures, the dedication was to CNN loudmouth Nancy Grace. “It’s interesting when people die,” Henley sang — with Michael Jackson’s death providing a gold rush of box office sales, music receipts and broadcast ratings, who’s going to argue?
Henley and his eight-member band, including two singers, dutifully presented the more autumnal moods of the early evening, which included a Kurt Weill ballad (“September Song”) and a supper-club reading of “I Put a Spell On You,” the demented R&B come-on from Screamin’ Jay Hawkins. Both were subdued to the point of evaporation.
Henley didn’t touch the drums, but midway through the show he strapped on a guitar. Since he touched it so infrequently, it was largely a prop, but a good one in helping dramatize the electro-funk of “All She Wants to Do Is Dance” and the syncopated flash of “Life in the Fast Lane.”
An unexpected cover — “Everybody Wants to Rule the World” by Tears For Fears — was included for its cynical uplift, but nevertheless threatened to transform the show into a 1980s dance party.
Despite a public face as an activist for the environment and against right-wing politics, Henley, 62, presented songs that sounded written from the retreat instead of the attack. “New York Minute,” “The Last Worthless Evening” and “The End of the Innocence” were more concerned with mourning inevitable defeats, both personal and political. They suited Henley’s voice, which sounds more comfortable from the losing end of things.
“Politics used to be a lot more fun,” he said before introducing “The End of the Innocence.” “Now they’ve gotten mean as hell.”