Friday, October 13, 2006

Clapton at the JPJ 

In my mind, the classic years of rock music were 1984 to 1987. This is not because of what was recorded during that interval, but because these were the years when, thanks to some worthy mentors, I abandoned the singer-songwriter pap I'd been listening to in high school and discovered classic rock. My suitemates and I spent hours sprawled in our living room listening to music and passing around and reading aloud from the Rolling Stone Record Guide, our bible. It was an immersion in Bob Dylan, Hendrix, The Allman Brothers, Traffic, Santana, Neil Young, and of course Eric Clapton under whatever banner he chose to hoist at that particular time, whether Cream, Blind Faith, Derek and the Dominoes, or his own moniker. While I don't listen to this kind of music much these days, I revere the classic albums whose very names still give me chills: Eat a Peach, Abraxis, Disreali Gears, John Barleycorn Must Die, and standing head and shoulders above the rest, Layla and Other Love Songs.

I saw Eric Clapton live last night for the first time at the John Paul Jones Arena in Charlottesville. I didn't know exactly what to expect from the legend, now in his sixties, but when a guitarist has been compared to God, you expect to see something special. The legend did not disappoint last night.

EC is feeling the blues on this tour, and brought the right band to deliver the goods. His band features two lead guitarists, a piano player, an organist on the Hammond B3, and the essential two ebony sisters standing on a platform singing backup. The sound was great, and the big screen was usually focused on someone's guitar, as the songs were mere platforms for tremendous blues guitar soloing from Clapton, his sidemen, and bluesman Robert Cray who sat in on a couple of songs (and provided the warm up act as well).

I won't bore you with the entire playlist, but the highlight for me was a rendition of Any Day off the Layla album that left me trembling. A short acoustic set in the middle of the show also featured a couple of songs off that landmark album: I Am Yours and Nobody Loves You When You're Down and Out (althought the latter bore more resemblance to his unplugged version). I was a little disappointed when they played After Midnight, which I've never considered particularly interesting despite its hit status, but the trite lyrics merely provided an interval for a tremendous guitar solo, so I only slightly regretted whatever it might have displaced in the program. Of course the place would have rioted it he didn't play Layla, and it was a highlight of the show. It segued rather clumsily and predictably into Cocaine, the last song of the main set. The band returned, with Robert Cray, to play a stunning version of Crossroads before calling it a night. All told, they played a solid two hours.

All in all, it was a terrific show (enhanced even more by being a 10 minute walk from my home) and I was thrilled to finally see Clapton live. If I had a disapointment at all it was the absence of Let It Rain, perhaps my favorite EC song. And of course my most outlandish fantasy, that Steve Winwood would show up and sing Presence of the Lord, also failed to materialize. But that was asking a lot.

For the obsessed, the names of all the musicians and full setlist for this gig can be found here. It is pretty cool to see that one of the guitarists is Derek Trucks, whose father Butch was one of the original Allman Brothers.

A reader comments that Derek is actually Butch's nephew.


By Anonymous Anonymous, at Fri Oct 13, 10:38:00 AM:

I was at one of the live shows at the Fillmore where Wheels of Fire was recorded. It was an astonishing evening. I heard Clapton interviewed by Terry Gross on the NPR Fresh Air program a few years back. He spoke about how relaxed and enjoyable those concerts were. He said it was like playing in his living room for friends. It really showed. He is one of the best, no doubt.

A CD he put out a few years ago with BB King, entitled "Cruising with the the King" is worth a listen. Cream put out a CD of their 2005 Reunion concert at the Royal Albert Hall. They still play great, and unlike most geezer bands, they played up to tempo as in the old days.  

By Blogger GreenmanTim, at Fri Oct 13, 10:41:00 AM:

And you got hooked on the classic stuff on vinyl, no less. I remember haunting the legendary "Plastic Fantastic" used and rare record store in Bryn Mawr and later Ardmore, PA during that same period, hoping to find out of print albums that are a dime a dozen in digital form today. I was able to locate and pick up all of the Grateful Dead's self released ablums from the mid 70s - Wake of the Flood, From The Mars Hotel, and Blues for Allah among them - and though myself blessed. It was an archane knowledge, passed on indeed by worthy mentors, and deliciously outside the mainstream because the classic rock format had not yet taken off on the radio. It was the old, good stuff you could only get by pirating your uncle's record collection or places like Plastic Fan...

I found Nick Drake and Richard Thompson's music this way, too. Thompson, BTW, is supposedly the only guitarist Eric Clapton is afraid of. Does that make him Satan to Clapton's deity?  

By Blogger Charlottesvillain, at Fri Oct 13, 11:00:00 AM:

MM, I envy you your Fillmore experience. With respect to the "relaxed" nature of those concerts, I think its pretty well documented how that atmosphere was achieved! Its not like you would actually write a sixteen minute version of Toad; those things just happen, man.  

By Anonymous Anonymous, at Fri Oct 13, 01:37:00 PM:

By the way Derek Trucks, an incredible musician in his own right, is Butch Trucks' nephew. Hes a slide guitar phenom a la Duane Allman, whose legend continues to grow on Claptons tour. I concur with you on all of those great albums, especially Layla, where Clapton and Duane Allman created some of the greatest music of all time. Hopefully Eric Clapton and Derek Trucks will continue that tradition.  

By Blogger Cardinalpark, at Fri Oct 13, 01:40:00 PM:

With EC, you're talking my favorite act, the #1 guy. I've seen him a dozen times, but missed his Garden show 2 weeks ago due to a conflict (leave it toy my father -- he was in town). I am particularly envious of you catching him with Robert Cray, a tremendous blues guitarist.

Good for you. Sounds like he laid off the old Cream stuff.

He and Windwood should absolutely do a Blind Faith tour. That happens, and I'll have to tell my wife I Can't Find My Way Home...  

By Anonymous Anonymous, at Fri Oct 13, 02:43:00 PM:

Its cool that they named the arena after the bassist for Led Zeppelin, I guess this more than anything proves the popularity of Classic Rock.  

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