I have no idea if guitar legend Eric Clapton reads C-Notes, but I was definitely surprised to hear Clapton deliver a version of "Layla" that was appropriately plugged in at his first Blossom Music Center appearance in 18 years. Clapton rolled out a set last night that was short on conversation, peppered with the occasional crowd-pleasing hit, and heavy on the blues. And for nearly two hours, the packed Blossom audience ate up every lick of it on a night that weather-wise, was uncharacteristically perfect.
Clapton strolled out wearing jeans and a white shirt, and wasted no time getting to the blues, opening with the first of many standards: a rollicking rendition of the Blind Willie Johnson (and longtime Clapton staple) number "Motherless Children." Sideman Doyle Bramhall II and Clapton traded lead vocals and lots of slide guitar. "Key to the Highway" and "Hoochie Coochie Man" followed, before the set list took a welcome left turn with the Hendrix classic "Little Wing."
Aside from Bramhall, Clapton's band has undergone a bit of an overhaul since I saw him last summer in Chicago at the Crossroads Guitar Festival. New faces include Pino Palladino (who’s played with Jeff Beck, the Who, and Simon and Garfunkel), keyboardist Chris Stainton (another longtime Clapton collaborator), and drummer Ian Thomas, who backed Clapton at his recent Madison Square Garden shows with Steve Winwood. Unfortunately, guitarist Derek Trucks, who’s given much energy and 1970s-style rock power back to Clapton's live show, is not on the current tour ...
Clapton and Bramhall split the guitar parts that were formerly shared among the three players, and it’s a welcome change for fans who’ve complained that Clapton has been "coasting" with Bramhall and Trucks over the past few years. Certainly, there was no shortage of "blues power" from Clapton's signature "Blackie" Fender Stratocaster. At 63 years old, time hasn't diminished Clapton's ability to impress, as he would demonstrate throughout the night with many carefully calculated solos that showed how he got the nickname "Slowhand."
In fact, even the mid-show acoustic set, which featured From the Cradle-era "Motherless Child" and Journeyman's "Running on Faith” was electrified for a short period, as Clapton strapped on his electric for a still-seated but seriously rockin' version of Robert Johnson’s “Traveling Riverside Blues." It was a great night for blues fans. About 90 minutes into the set, Clapton finally pulled out songs from his own catalog, with a typically scorching rendition of the Derek and the Dominos classic "Tell the Truth."
An obligatory everybody-gets-laid-tonight rendition of "Wonderful Tonight" fell late in the set with a version that was so short, it felt like a deliberate addition just for the lovers in the audience. It was almost as if Clapton was doing his part to make sure that "date night" ended alright for everyone in attendance. Even "Layla," in all of its electric glory, felt slightly abbreviated.
But those are minor gripes. In fact, the biggest problem was the video visuals that accompanied Clapton and his band. The video seemed completely out of sync with what the band was doing onstage. With the exception of starry and dreamy visuals that accompanied "Wonderful Tonight," the rest of the videos felt like special effects that had gotten lost on the way to a U2 concert.
Opener Robert Randolph joined Clapton for what has become a standard collaborative encore performance of the Muddy Waters classic "Got My Mojo Workin'." Randolph added lots of trademark pedal steel guitar riffing to the night’s lone encore. What might have seemed like a short set for some fans felt like the right dose of blues from Clapton and his band. –Matt Wardlaw