Eric Clapton / The Robert Cray Band
Friday, March 23, 2007
General Motors Place
Vancouver, BC Canada
***Review By Lord of The Wasteland
(***Photo approval was not granted for either artist.***)
“Clapton Is God”
Legend has it this very phrase was scribbled on a London rail station wall way back in 1967. Whoever scrawled this prophetic graffiti could not have been more correct judging by Eric Clapton’s sold-out performance at Vancouver’s General Motors Place. “Slowhand” played for just over two hours to nearly 18,000 fans drawing a few hits but focusing moreso on an obscure back catalogue and blues covers. Opener Robert Cray, a blues master in his own right, kicked off the show with an all-too-brief half-hour set that curiously focused on only three of his fourteen albums since 1980.
THE ROBERT CRAY BAND
The inclusion of The Robert Cray Band as Clapton’s opening act was no surprise given the long-standing friendship between the two guitarists (Cray has appeared several times on Clapton’s Crossroads Guitar Festival). Cray’s soulful croon is buttery smooth and when matched with his on point blues licks, the result is enchanting. Drawing exclusively from 2005’s TWENTY album and 1983’s BAD INFLUENCE with one track from 2001’s SHOULDA BEEN HOME, Cray and his incredibly tight band received a standing-ovation at the end of their thirty-minute set. Strangely, Cray’s Grammy-winning breakthrough, 1986’s STRONG PERSUADER, was ignored and tracks like “Smoking Gun” and “I Guess I Showed Her” were missed. Still, “Phone Booth” and the fun falsettos of “The 12-Year Old Boy” made the expansive hockey arena seem like a hot, smoky blues club, while the reggae-like beat of “Poor Johnny” was a curious twist to Cray’s sound. Two large video-projection screens set up for Clapton allowed fans to see up close the magic of Cray’s fingers as he worked the whammy bar and bent strings. Cray himself is a terribly underrated vocalist and guitarist and considering he is approaching thirty years of recording, it is crime he is not a bigger name in the business.
THE ROBERT CRAY BAND SETLIST
The 12-Year Old Boy
Dispelling rumors that his set would be a “hits” show covering everything since his earliest days in The Yardbirds, Eric Clapton played mostly tracks from his early- to mid-seventies solo albums with a pair of Cream songs, as well as Jimi Hendrix and Robert Johnson covers. Hendrix’s “Little Wing” nearly brought the house down but witnessing almost twenty-thousand people collectively on the brink of tears during a stunning version of “Wonderful Tonight” was jaw-dropping. “I Shot The Sheriff” settled into a funky groove while an incredible version of “Motherless Children” was nothing short of slide guitar heaven. Backing vocalists Michelle John and Sharon White contribute a gospel sound to “Further On Up The Road” and the rocking “Got To Get Better In A Little While,” which also featured an impressive bass solo by Willie Weeks. For his part, Clapton sizzled on “Layla” and “Little Queen of Spades,” effortlessly tossing out searing guitar lines that were unknowing of his sixty-two years. The “sit down set”—essentially a revisiting of Clapton’s foray into MTV Unplugged waters in 1992—saw the guitarist go solo for “Driftin’” before the rest of the band joined in on Cream’s 1967 version of “Blind Joe” Reynolds’ “Outside Woman Blues,” the Derek and The Dominoes classic, “Nobody Knows You When You’re Down and Out” and the elegant “Running On Faith.” Never one to hog the spotlight, Clapton allowed second guitarist Doyle Bramhall II (replacing slide guitarist extraordinaire, Derek Trucks) to show off his chops on “Little Queen of Spades” and during the extended jam of “Cocaine.” Chris Stainton tinkled the ivories during the keyboard-driven second half of “Layla,” while Tim Carmon contributed several organ and Moog flourishes throughout the set. For set-closer, “Crossroads,” Robert Cray returned to the stage for a three-guitar jam with Clapton and Bramhall that left many of the guitar geeks in crowd thinking they had died and gone to heaven. In short, Clapton hardly carries these songs himself and the group of musicians he has chosen to back him are stellar in their own right, as well.
ERIC CLAPTON SETLIST
Tell The Truth
Key To The Highway
Got To Get Better In A Little While
I Shot The Sheriff
~Sit Down Set~
Driftin’ (EC Solo)
Outside Woman Blues
Nobody Knows You When You’re Down and Out
Running On Faith
Little Queen of Spades
Further On Up The Road
Crossroads (with Robert Cray)
With ticket prices soaring over $100 apiece, this show was dedicated to the “real” fans (and those with big wallets) but few artists deserve such lofty prices and even fewer actually make the crowd feel like it was worth it. However, Clapton is one of the elite few and seeing a legend in concert that is still enjoying the music and challenging himself is a real treat. A few tracks were missed (“Before You Accuse Me” and “Bell Bottom Blues” would have been excellent additions) but the addition of some lesser-known songs and omission of the Adult Contemporary drivel of the late-nineties kept things fresh and interesting for the mostly fifty- to sixty-year olds taking in Clapton’s first Vancouver show since 1998. Clapton’s vocals were too-often lost in the overly-loud sound mix and as a frontman, he could certainly use some tips on charisma and embracing the live audience, but he is legend for his guitar and that is exactly what Clapton let do the talking.
***Thanks to Kelli at House of Blues for the press pass.