The task of exaggerating the impact Eric Clapton has exerted upon the world of rock music over the course of a career, wringing pure emotion from the strings of guitars, is one of virtual impossibility.
However, the recorded offerings of the man's late career might make one forget the early, greater ones -- the most recent of which was none-to-far-removed from what might be if Jimmy Buffett decided to rearrange an album of blues standards. Some have easily forgotten that it was Clapton's Les Paul-through-a-Marshall that changed the very concept of what the blues could be for a generation when the Beano
album hit. That there is a damn good reason why Cream's music has become one of the archetypical soundtracks for anything even vaguely
psychedelic, and that the reasons why we should all still extol the contributions of the man once infamously referred to as "God" are vast, and we just don't have the bandwidth.
Eric Clapton and his band of notable heavy-hitters settled into the first number -- beach-approved "Hello Old Friend" -- at Friday night's sold-out show at Hollywood's Seminole Hard Rock Live. The tangible energy of being in the presence of legitimate rock music royalty washed away any misgivings we might have had about the performance being a laid-back run through the numbers by a man on the verge of a well-earned retirement.
Prior to the live revelations of Clapton and his posse of sonic perfectionists, the soon-to-be at capacity crowd was treated to a most excellent opening performance by an act more accustomed headlining venues, the Wallflowers.
If there was one thing we took from the Wallflowers' performance, it is just how much we miss '90s radio. Though the band has released plenty of albums and swapped out plenty of members since the somber, tremolo-soaked guitar and moody organ of "One Headlight," Jakob Dylan's deep croon remains distinctive. Even the newly penned tracks like "Love is a Country," reminded the crowd just how satisfying an honestly written and well-performed rock song can be.
Though there was some newer fare peppered into the band's energetic set, the crowd was treated to all of the big hits. From the T-Bone Burnett produced debut, Bringing Down the Horse, a smashing romp through "The Difference," and an elated-looking Rami Jaffee standing triumphantly atop the keys his Hammond, his red plastic party cup raised high in appreciation of the audience.
Clapton and his band took the stage in darkness and were greeted by a staggering roar of applause. Following the opening song, Clapton remained at the helm of an acoustic guitar for an emotionally charged performance of "My Father's Eyes," which showcased just how much steel guitarist Greg Leisz's inclusion in the band fortified Clapton's already immense songs.
With the audience primed, Clapton's tech handed him a graphite colored Fender Stratocaster (no-doubt the man's top-selling signature model) and the band laid into the honky-tonk blues of "Tell the Truth." As guitarist Doyle Bramhall II handled Bobby Whitlock's vocal lines as well as Duane Allman's legendary slide guitar parts, the song gave way to Clapton's first guitar solo of the night. Clapton closed his eyes behind the thick-rimmed eyeglasses and channeled the emotion of the song straight through the bones of the cheering crowd. The moment was sublime, and just the first of night's many guitar-worshiping time-stoppers.
The band continued to travel through a well-balanced set of songs, old, new, boisterous and intimate. Bassist Willie Weeks stood over drummer Steve Jordan like a bodyguard, protecting the groove and synching with the renowned drummer to work as one throughout the genre-jumping set.
Paul Carrack of Squeeze, Ace, and Roxy Music handled organ and keyboard duties on this tour (along with longtime Clapton band member Chris Stainton) and Clapton allowed a few of Carrack's signature song into the set. Carrack's voice was powerful, and while the audience lapped up "Temptation" and set closer "It's High Time We Went," we can't help but feel a little slighted that the Clapton canon wasn't the focal point of the entire set, especially with ticket prices so steep and rumors of this being the man's last full tour.
However, there was plenty of intimate musical moments, given that there was no stage banter to speak of. At one point, a few chairs were brought to the stage, and the vibe morphed into a coffeehouse for "Nobody Knows You When You're Down and Out." Then, there was the tear-jerking (seriously, no sarcasm at all) performance of "Tears in Heaven," which was made even more powerful by the addition of Leisz weeping steel guitar during the song's bridge. The songs displayed just how soulful Clapton's voice remains, and that while it might be his own self-diagnosed stumbling block, we would not have it any other way.
The real focus of the show was Clapton's first love, the blues. The electric guitar interplay between Clapton and Bramhall on Robert Johnson penned standards like the gritty and greasy blues of "Stones in My Passway" was a zenith moment of the performance. Bramhall proved how much he has learned in the keep of Clapton over the years, kicking the ever-loving-shit out of a red Les Paul Jr. during "Love in Vain Blues," and swinging for the fences during the band's reading of "Little Queen of Spades." However, for every shot the student took at the ring, Clapton returned a salvo of his own, continually leaning back where he stood and channeling years of sadness into his guitar.
The high point of the night was the first encore. After the traditional dance of leaving the stage, audience clapping, band returning was complete, Clapton returned to crack into Cream's "Sunshine of Your Love." The song's performance was a cranking loud behemoth of psychedelia that had the audience on their feet. Steve Jordan slammed away at Ginger Baker's rampant tom fills while Clapton's searing leads echoed through the hall. As the man enjoyed his last night as a 67-year old, during the final solo of the song, one could not help but feel fortunate to have seen him once again before the guitarist decides to really hang 'em up for good.