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The Eagles' great 'History' lessons at MSG

The Eagles, from left, Timothy B. Schmit, Bernie

The Eagles, from left, Timothy B. Schmit, Bernie Leadon, Don Henley and Glenn Frey, perform at Madison Square Garden (Nov. 8, 2013) (Credit: AP)

As touring inspirations go, the release of a career-spanning documentary is kind of a shaky one. But that hardly matters when the resulting tour is as enjoyable as The Eagles’ three-hour extravaganza was Friday night at Madison Square Garden.

“The History of The Eagles” tour, a companion to the sprawling, impressive documentary of the same name from earlier this year, creates a framework to tell the story of how Glenn Frey and Don Henley, two singer-songwriters from Linda Ronstadt’s backing band, went on to form the legendary band.

It starts quietly, with Frey and Henley seated on stools on a spare stage meant to look like a low-rent rehearsal space, strumming acoustic guitars to deliver “Saturday Night” in the way they did in 1971. For “Train Leaves Here This Morning,” they add Bernie Leadon, who sings and plays guitar while seated on an amp, and the band’s trademark harmonies kick in. Then, Timothy B. Schmit joins in on their classic “Peaceful Easy Feeling” and guitarist Joe Walsh comes on board for “Witchy Woman” and soon it’s clear how the Eagles took flight.

Once they’ve launched, though, the idea of telling the band’s history kind of becomes unnecessary – and it’s all but forgotten in the show’s second half – because it’s known through the songs. The incredible hit parade of “Tequila Sunrise,” “The Best of My Love,” “Lyin’ Eyes” (which Frey said he wanted to “dedicate it to my first wife, Plaintiff”) and “Take It to the Limit” shows not only how potent the band was in its day, but how those songs form the core of everything from today’s mainstream country to a growing segment of indie rock. Even the way they bring up the bass on “One of These Nights” as a nod to the era when disco surrounded them references the way today’s rockers are utilizing today’s dance beats.

The whole band was in fine voice, especially Henley in his higher register, making songs like “New Kid in Town,” where they all sang in harmony, sound even more impressive than the original. The biggest surprise, though, was how much Walsh dominated the show’s second half, with songs that aren’t even Eagles’ songs, including his solo hit “Life’s Been Good” and the James Gang’s “Funk #49.” He was the one who made the show a rock concert, with his virtuoso guitar playing and wild man antics.

It was a quick turn from Walsh’s “Rocky Mountain Way” to the finale “Desperado,” but Henley’s poignant vocals made it work, offering yet another tutorial for young rockers.

As history lessons go, “The History of The Eagles” may be a bit dodgy. As a concert, though, it bordered on unforgettable. (The Eagles play Madison Square Garden again on Saturday and Monday nights.)

SETLIST: Saturday Night / Train Leaves Here This Morning / Peaceful Easy Feeling / Witchy Woman / Doolin-Dalton / Tequila Sunrise / Doolin'-Dalton/Desperado (Reprise) / Already Gone / The Best of My Love / Lyin' Eyes / One of These Nights / Take It to the Limit // INTERMISSION // Pretty Maids All in a Row / I Can't Tell You Why / New Kid in Town / Love Will Keep Us Alive / Heartache Tonight / Those Shoes / In the City / Life's Been Good / The Long Run / Funk #49 / Life in the Fast Lane // ENCORES: Hotel California / Take It Easy / Rocky Mountain Way / Desperado

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