MANHATTAN, NY—The Eagles dusted off their catalogue of hits plus some obscure numbers at Madison Square Garden as part of their History Of Eagles tour for the last night of a two-venue run that included two shows at the Garden and one at Newark’s Prudential Center. It was a well-choreographed showdown that took the band from its acoustic origins to their biggest triumph, Hotel California.
Timed to coincide with the History Of Eagles documentary that ran on Showtime a year or so ago, the band returned to the area for another round. The doc was a well rounded and thought out version of the Eagles’ sordid past, warts and all as ex-members laced into current members like jilted lovers. ’70s debauchery, rehab mountain and interband squabbles were laid out for all to see like an intervention, but ultimately it’s the music that prevailed and by the time “Desperado” closed the night, nothing else mattered but the songs.
Don Henley and Glenn Frey started it off playing acoustic guitars on “Saturday Night.” They slowly built the lineup adding original Eagle Bernie Leadon on “Train Leaves This Morning.” Recommended by Linda Ronstadt, whom Henley and Frey were backing up at the time, he flat picked his Fender Stratocaster, adding a countrified sound to the mix that he perfected playing with Gram Parsons, and was a welcome addition to the band he left in 1975.
On “Witchy Woman,” ex-Poco bassist Timothy B. Schmit joined them as they sat on stools and amp cases as Henley switched to drums for an unplugged version of the song. By the time “Already Gone” hit and Joe Walsh took the stage, they were a fiery unit playing the hits. After “Best Of My Love,” Frey, who played court jester and master of ceremonies to his bandmates’ gentle smiles, declared from the stage, “This place has the best sound system east of the Mississippi!” “Take It The Limit” was dedicated to bassist Randy Meisner, who also sang on the original. Frey took on the lead as the band howled on through the coda ending the first set and Leadon’s departure.
The second set started off slowly with the symphonic reprise of “Wasted Time” from the Hotel California album, then segued into “Pretty Maids All In A Row” that Joe Walsh delivered magnicently. A melancholic ode to the past the song set the pace for a slow buildup of the second set and the band’s real life second act after the departure of Bernie Leadon.
Frey introduced “Heartache Tonight” in homage to the Beach Boys’ four-part harmonies of “Barbara Ann” declaring them “pioneers” and the Eagles “settlers.” On “Life’s Been Good,” Walsh mumbled, “How ya doin’?” then paced the stage careening left, then right as his helmet cam captured the crowd whooping it up for the video screens
A steel-eyed presence most of the night on guitar, drum and vocals but who played his ass off, Henley introduced the “Long Run,” adding, “In 1978 we were considered passé by most. The musical press, punk and disco was happening at the time. Whatever happened to them? We’re here and you’re here,” as Walsh banged out the opening notes to the crowd’s shout-outs.
Playfully teasing the crowd at first, Frey and Walsh started riffing off each other, turning the arena into a guitar-slinging battle of the axes, after which Walsh declared victoriously, “Let’s get funky!” then punched out the opening chords of the James Gang classic, “Funk #49.” “Hotel California” ended the first set of encores as Walsh and sideman Steuart Smith, who played ex-Eagle Don Felder’s parts verbatim for the entire evening, twisted and ground out their leads individually, then interwove them into a gorgeously synchronized ending.
For the second round of encores, including “Take It Easy” and “Rocky Mountain Way,” Leadon joined in. Henley sang “Desperado,” ending the two and a half hour journey through the band’s history. He sang it like a blue-eyed soulster up there to a solo piano accompaniment as the rest of the Eagles soared on the harmonies that took us back through the smoky haze of the ’70s and the songs that lie at the core of this great band.
P.S. The band had one of the most intense policies regarding no cell phone pictures being taken at the show. Ushers were vigilant with concertgoers and it actually made the show more enjoyable. James Gang and Eagles producer Bill Szymczyk was also in attendance, hanging by the soundboard, and was introduced by Glenn Frey onstage.