Concert Review: Eric Clapton
September 20, 2006
The United Center
Chicago, IL

The Cream of Clapton, Live

Eric Clapton, one of the godfathers of blues and rock guitar, played a near flawless show covering his early and latter days Wednesday night to a semi full United Center. While some people might coin the British rock prodigy the Cadillac of guitar of players, they are lying. If such a comparison must be made Clapton is the 50s era fire-red Maserati coupe of axe players. He is the kind of legend whose talent and career are unprecedented. While some of his recent solo endeavors have been mediocre at best, his slow and successful turn towards more straight blues proves that Clapton is still one of those rare musical gems of yesternow.

Dressed casually in jeans and a pink Oxford and sporting his legendary black Fender Stratocaster, ‘Slowhand’ Clapton and his band took the simply lit/decorated stage opening with the always classic, “Pretending,” from Clapton’s 1989 solo release, Journeyman. The blues rock anthem was followed by the faithful blue infused rendition of Bob Marley’s “I Shot the Sheriff,” followed by the B-side, “Got To Get Better In A Little While” from Clapton’s Derek and the Dominos days. The first three tunes, melded together without pause, were perfect precursors for a night of songs covering Clapton’s entire cannon, from his early Cream days to his long blues jams. No rock was left unturned at the lively arena.

The opening trio was followed by a smooth 15-minute slow blues jam of, “Old Love” (also from Journeyman), which featured guest guitarist/song’s co-writer and long time Clapton collaborator, Robert Cray, whose band also opened the show. The song, which proved to be one of the main highlights of the night, featured beautiful two virtuosic guitar solos from Clapton and Cray.

Other highlights from the first half of the show included “Motherless Child” (a song improved when played live) from the 1994 record, From the Cradle. Half way through the show the band performed a four-song sit down acoustic set, featuring wonderful versions of the blues standard, “Nobody Knows You When You’re Down and Out” and Clapton’s “Running on Faith.”

The latter half of the performance showcased some of Clapton’s best-known anthems, including the rendition of “After Midnight” from Clapton’s first solo release, the sappy but always simple and moving, “Wonderful Tonight,” the psychedelic “Cocaine,” and the Derek and the Dominos era version of “Layla,” which along with Hendrix’s “Little Wing” and Dire Straits’ “Sultans of Swing,” remains to this day one of the finest guitar rock pieces ever recorded.

The band played one stirring encore of the blues standard “Crossroads,” another of Clapton’s timeless classics. The version again featured brilliant vocal and guitar styling from Robert Cray, who sang the first two verses and joined Clapton on the last.

While Clapton has aged since his early days with The Yardbirds and Cream (he is quickly making his way to 70), his voice and sound has not deteriorated like so many musicians of the past who fade away. Rather Clapton has found a very unique style and sound that shows career maturity. His band, featuring two young guitar virtuosos, Derek Trucks (kin to Allman Brothers drummer Butch Trucks) and Doyle Bramhall II, respectively, add a perfect blend of country rock and blues slide guitar work to Clapton’s own crisp axe chops.

With a new album, The Road to Escondido, slated for a November release, and probable future solo and collaboration tours with blues legend J.J. Cale, it is clear that Clapton is not retiring anytime soon. Still, for anyone interested in rock and blues music he is one of those must see artists who truly is one of rock music’s best-kept legends.

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