Concert Review: An Evening With Slowhand

Clapton at the RBC Center, Raleigh 3.8.10.  Photo by John Rottet

A few weeks ago, I had written a post about the T-Mobile ad featuring Eric Clapton, and mentioned being a long-time fan of his music.  What I didn’t mention at the time was that I had never seen him live in concert.  As a self-admitted music fanatic, I’ve been fortunate to see most of my favorite artists in person at least once, so it always kind of bothered me that I had missed several opportunities over the years to see someone who was near the top of my list of music heroes.

I rectified that egregious error this past Monday night, when Clapton came to Raleigh, playing at the home of our spectacularly mediocre NHL team.  Adding to my anticipation of seeing Clapton, was that the opening act was another rock legend I’d never seen live, The Who lead singer, Roger Daltry (I’m still puzzled by the fact that someone of Daltry’s fame and stature would agree to be an opening act for anybody, but I’m not going to complain).

Unfortunately due to traffic, we missed most of Daltry’s opening set, arriving in our nose-bleed seats in time to catch only the last couple of songs, including one of my Who favorites, “Baba O’Riley”.  Wish we had seen more, but I have to say that it was pretty cool to actually see and hear Daltrey belt out that rock classic.

Clapton and his band took the stage a short time later, and jumped right into a 90 minute set of classics that spanned most of his over 40-year career.  The rollicking bluesy rock of “Tell The Truth” and “Key to the Highway” (songs from perhaps his finest album, Layla and Other Assorted Love Songs) reminded me of my exploration years ago of all of the amazing early blues legends who were themselves music heroes for Clapton: Muddy Waters, Robert Johnson, Howlin’ Wolf.  The spine-chilling solo work during “Old Love” (from his late 80s Journeyman album), and the wild abandon he brought to the closer, “Crossroads” (a classic from his days with Cream) were perfect displays of the two sides of Clapton’s guitar virtuosity: on “Old Love”, there’s his signature tone. It’s been said that part of what makes a guitarist truly great is when you can recognize his playing without even being told who it is(think Hendrix, or B.B. King, or even Eddie Van Halen).  Thousands of guitarists play a Fender Stratocaster, but no one really quite replicates that “sound” (See also “Wonderful Tonight” for an example of that unmistakable tone).   On “Crossroads” you hear the ferocity and fluid technical ability of someone who is in perfect command his instrument, yet right on the edge of control. Kind of like a fighter pilot “pushing the envelope” of his aircraft.  Listen to the version of “Crossroads” on Cream’s album Wheels of Fire and you’ll have an idea of why kids in the sixties started spray painting “Clapton is God” on the walls throughout London.

There were many memorable moments throughout the evening, but I had to chuckle a bit when Clapton, during an acoustic set, launched into “I’ve Got A Rock N Roll Heart”, currently being used in the aforementioned T-Mobile campaign.  It had always been an obscure(albeit good) song, but apparently the commercial has helped expose it to a wide audience, as it got one of the biggest receptions (and sing-alongs) of the night.

Another great moment: Hearing “Wonderful Tonight” and almost unconsciously pulling my wife a little closer.  Yeah, the tune might be overplayed and almost cliché (I think it was the theme song of my Junior Prom), but it’s still one of the most romantic pieces of music I’ve ever heard (despite the fact that Clapton actually wrote the song in a moment of frustration, as he was waiting for his wife, who was taking forever to get ready for a party).

There’s something incredibly thrilling about seeing one of my favorite musicians/bands for the first time; the anticipation, the expectations, the sheer excitement of hearing those songs I love (and in the case of Clapton’s work, have loved for most of my life).  It’s the same feeling I had last year when I saw Bruce Springsteen for the first time, and U2 a few months later.  I can only compare it to the joy and excitement a child experiences on Christmas morning.  It’s sad that as we grow older, those moments become fewer and farther between.  I only hope I continue to find that same joy even 40 years or so from now as an old man at a rock concert…I mean, I haven’t seen the Rolling Stones yet, and I’m sure they’ll still be touring by then, don’t ya think?

Written by Bruce