Eric Clapton and Robert Randolph
Hard Rock Live
Monday, May 5, 2008
Better Than: Watching TV pundits continue to treat Hillary Clinton’s campaign seriously.
Is Eric Clapton God or just a higher power some choose to call God?
Unfortunately, the decades-long debate over Clapton’s exact theological disposition wasn’t solved at Hard Rock Live where he performed a fine set that vacillated between the divinely inspired and, occasionally, the divine itself.
When you see Clapton, you expect big doin’s, especially if you shell out 100 to 400 bucks, the going rate. Luckily, Robert Randolph and the Family Band opened the show with their ebullient brand of gospel/funk/rock/blues/whatchamacallit music. Randolph, who learned to sing and play pedal steel guitar in the Pentecostal church, came out hard with a feedback-saturated one-chord stomp -- appropriately called “Good Time” -- that was equal parts Hendrix, Sly Stone, and the late blues master R.L. Burnside. Then Randolph switched to a Stratocaster for a cool number featuring his younger sister’s big gospel voice; oddly enough, the song mixed in the airy guitar tones and mellow feel of a Grateful Dead tune. Intent on covering a wide musical spectrum, Randolph slipped in a nice version of the gospel-blues “You Gotta Move” and a forgettable version of Hendrix’s “Voodoo Chile.” (Nobody should play “Voodoo Chile” but Hendrix. Ever.)
Then came Clapton, much to the delight of the large boomer crowd. But if folks were expecting a show chock full of Clapton originals, they didn’t get it. Instead, Clapton delivered a tasteful set comprised mostly of blues standards like “Key to the Highway”, “Hoochie Coochie Man” (augmented by a stellar pair of female backup singers), and “Motherless Child.” In the middle of the show, Clapton took a chair and went acoustic for a handful of songs, most notably on Charles Brown’s wistful classic, “Driftin’ Blues.”
E.C. returned to rock with a fantastic treatment of Hendrix’s “Little Wing.” Later, there were hammer-down versions of “Layla” (electric, thankfully) and “Cocaine.” The latter tune got most of the crowd up and moving, save for the folks who paid $400 to sit in the first ten rows and apparently thought they were at a real estate convention.
Clapton sang well, summoning the occasional measured growl. His playing and set list were well balanced, too, although I didn’t sense that he was pushing the envelope. That’s not to say he was phoning it in -- this is the second night of his summer tour, so maybe Clapton was getting revved up, working his way into the Slowhand zone.
There were some standout moments -- like when E.C. traded licks with his able supporting guitarist, or when the keyboard player, Chris Stainton, pounded out dirty boogie-woogie solos during the blues numbers. And the vibe was high when Clapton played “Got My Mojo Workin'” for the encore.
Clapton’s divinity, or lack thereof, is still an open question, but it’s fair to say his mojo is still workin’. As a matter of fact, it’s workin’ on you.
Personal Bias: For future shows, Clapton should play less blues and more original rock.
Random Detail: Clapton’s backup guitarist played his Strat upside down and left-handed, in the style of Hendrix. Is this one of those things that gives musicians more cred, like wearing dark shades onstage?
By the Way: Clapton mercifully spared us from his adult-contemporary repertoire.
- Bill Frogameni