Wednesday, January 31, 2007

EC was here

Eric Clapton and band
Sydney Entertainment Centre
January 30th 2007

Guest post by Christopher Sheil

He opened with "Tell the Truth", and poorly. But about half-way through the opener the players all found their slots, and in the end it was a triumph. There was "Key to the Highway" and a song I didn't recognise, which were OK, plus "Why Has Love Got to be So Sad?" which is a favourite. Then he went into "Little Wing", which was magnificent, and for mine the highlight of the night. EC went for it, with subtle and not so subtle Jimi embellishments, and he flew, and the number was nailed, dead into the ground.

After that, I loved the acoustic set in the centre. "Running On Faith" was surprisingly successful, and nothing was bad. Coming out of the middle section, "Motherless Children" delivered real freight - Clapton's "Rollin' & Tumblin'". "Further On Up the Road" was forgettably familiar, and felt like intermission.

By this time, I was waiting for "Layla" because Derek Trucks is a big deal, and could be Duane Allman II, and knows how to lift the roof, and I was getting edgy with anticipation. They started it well, doing the famous anthem that is that riff justice, but alas couldn't deliver the middle for mine, which was of course what I was waiting for. They just seemed to lose their way fleetingly, and once the micro-seconds pass, there's no going back. Bugger. They finished it beautifully. Touching, as ever.

"Cocaine", as the first encore, left me cold, as ever. This number must appeal to a particular audience, as he has always done it live whenever I’ve caught him, and, as ever, I could do without it. I don’t know why he doesn't play the funkier and more interesting "After Midnight" if he has to do a JJ Cale number, or the marvellous “Ride The River” from their recent collaboration. The finale was "Crossroads" which was pretty good, and the man left us with a wonderfully clean final solo.

All up, it was lovely, there were some special highlights, and it was always interesting – how neat to have a screen just overhead showing close-ups of the players’ hands at work. I was interested to see that both Derek (all the time) and Doyle Bramhall II (much of the time) play electric (as well as acoustic) guitar with their bare fingers, as distinct from playing with picks. Unless this is a new trend, it is very unusual. I can't remember seeing a slide player, like Derek, playing blistering solos with his bare fingers. EC always uses a pick, but supplements it with his fingers when he's playing acoustic, which all makes for a great feel inside the music. At times, Trucks went close to stealing the show, yet EC also punctuated him very well, setting up his spaces and then pulling him back down into the band.

I can’t remember seeing EC with two side guitars before, and it supplies a fabulous extra dimension, even if it does dilute EC himself somewhat. Chris Stainton on keyboards, Willie Weeks on bass and Steve Jordan on drums, together with a second keyboards player and two back-up chick singers, are one helluva ensemble. There is, in any case, a longstanding integrity to EC's music, which holds the sound together. While Clapton acknowledges the crowd, and the players acknowledge each other frequently, there is no sense of them seeking, let alone begging for, audience approval. I always enjoy the refreshment that comes with the sheer confidence of top flight international bands.

On the other hand, apart from "Little Wing", which was inspired and we were privileged, EC struck me as lacking the extremities he once had, which means that his concerts are less exhausting, less satisfying than they once were. The sound, for instance, was normal concert, whereas historically EC has always been very fucking loud. For all the reasons we know and understand, he can never again be the guitarist on the cusp of breaking music like you have never heard before, and is therefore bound to be less tense, less risky, less exciting. Perhaps, if we were to compare him with Dylan, Clapton's now tidying up in the late end of his career, rather than making consummating final statements.

But hey, it was a blast. My life passed before my eyes ... wish he’d done "White Room" … might go back again tomorrow night.

2/2/07 Update by Amanda: More guitar nerd discussion at Blogocracy.

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