POP MUSIC REVIEW : Henley's Cup Runneth Over


Pretty music.

Pretty setting.

Pretty far.

Those are the main findings in the second consumer report on the new Glen Helen Blockbuster Pavilion here--this one involving Saturday's concert by Don Henley, whose songs about ideals and relationships are among the most distinguished of the modern pop era.

Colleague Steve Hochman reported last week that it took 87 minutes to travel the 60 miles from downtown Los Angeles to the Pavilion entrance during rush-hour traffic on a weekday evening.

Saturday's 74-mile trip from the heart of the San Fernando Valley took 85 minutes--at least, it should have taken 85 minutes.

Beware: Don't assume you'll find a big sign on the San Bernardino Freeway (Interstate 10) that says, "LUNKHEAD: Turn here for Devore or Glen Helen or the Blockbuster Pavilion or the Henley concert."

Assuming there would be some sign, this lunkhead got all the way to Fontana--about 10 miles too far--before checking a map and finding that you are supposed to turn north at the I-15, the highway to Barstow that crosses the I-10 just past Ontario.

Once on the I-15, there was a flashing Caltrans sign that alerted you to the appropriate Sierra off-ramp to the 16,000-capacity Pavilion. There was a second warning sign Saturday that you were approaching the concert: the first traffic backup of the trip.

The Pavilion is three miles from the highway off-ramp and it took 12 minutes to make the trip on a night when the attendance was estimated at 12,000--enough of a delay to make you worry how long the delay might be when there is a sellout.

But distance is a relative thing in Southern California, where Los Angeles residents sometimes drive up to Santa Barbara for lunch or dinner on the weekend.

For those in the Inland Empire, the new Pavilion answers a longstanding prayer for a nearby venue.

And the Pavilion itself--as reported by Hochman--is a state-of-the-art facility with excellent sight lines and sound, all framed by a colorful setting that is especially appealing with the mountains visible in the background just before dark.

In showcasing its new property, the Blockbuster management could hardly have found a classier act than Henley. He doesn't just keep improving as a songwriter--a remarkable feat considering the high quality of his work with the Eagles in the '70s--but he continues to become looser and more engaging as a performer.

Dividing his informal, 25-song set into acoustic and electric segments, Henley offered an overview of his career--from the expected Eagles and solo hits to such less frequently revived Eagles tunes as "Last Resort," a 1976 tale of ecology and greed, and "Sad Cafe," a 1979 toast to a musician's dreams and disappointments.

Henley, who was backed by six instrumentalists and three singers, was in such a good-natured mood that he dedicated a tune to newlyweds Julia Roberts and Lyle Lovett ("The Last Worthless Evening," a song about taking a chance on love) and even challenged the audience to tell which of his own songs he still enjoys performing. He said he still loves to sing some of the songs, "likes" to sing others, is "indifferent" about others and "hates" a few.

He injected too much vocal passion in the material to tell which songs he hates, but the guess here is that the ones in the indifferent category are such Eagles hits as "Life in the Fast Lane" and "Best of My Love." They are marvelously crafted tunes, but they have become so familiar over the years that they have lost almost all of their emotional resonance.

It was easiest to tell which songs remain the closest to Henley--and, not surprisingly, they were the most recent ones: "The End of the Innocence," which defined the disillusionment of the Reagan-Bush era as well as anything written during the '80s, and "The Heart of the Matter," a liberating song about romantic forgiveness.

In the cool night air, both songs reflected a cleansing, liberating edge that provided the final commentary on both Henley's music and Pavilion's rural setting: Pretty special.

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