Eric Clapton At Madison Square Garden, Sunday, March 19th, 2017, Reviewed
I have always felt that seeing Eric Clapton play guitar is like seeing Michael Jordan play basketball or seeing Baryshnikov dance. You are seeing one the best ever doing what he does. I have seen Clapton many times over the years, from the 461 Ocean Boulevard tour in the ‘70s when he was trying to get away from the guitar god image, to the present. His best performances come when he is challenged by another guitarist: his reunion show with Cream (Jack Bruce on bass), his tours with Winwood and Jeff Beck, and the 2006 tour where he shared the stage with Doyle Bramhall and Derek Trucks. Without that challenge he can settle instead of pushing himself.
Although “Slowhand’s” hands haven’t slowed, his age and health problems seem to have deprived him of some stamina. The 3/19 show clocked in at barely an hour and a half. Eric tried to make up for the length of the set by booking two opening acts. Jimmy Vaughan gave us a half hour of fairly generic but energetic Texas blues. Gary Clark, Jr. followed with some of the most inspired playing of the night with his set. Clark also made the only mention of the late great Chuck Berry from the stage.
Clapton’s set, while strong, was nothing I hadn’t seen before. His band is tight and professional: Steve Gadd on drums, Walt Richmond and the spectacular Chris Stainton on keyboards, Nathan East on bass, and Sharon White and Michelle John on backing vocals. Stainton’s piano solos were some of the best work of the evening. The songs were beautifully performed but there were no surprises. The acoustic set in the middle of the evening really showed off Clapton’s technique as the cameras focused on his hands. I would have preferred an electric Layla, though.
Overall, an enjoyable evening but not quite what he used to be. Who of us is, though?
• Key to the Highway
• I’m Your Hoochie Coochie Man
• I Shot the Sheriff
• Driftin’ Blues
• Nobody Knows You When You’re Down and Out
• Tears in Heaven
• Somebody’s Knocking
• Wonderful Tonight
• Cross Road Blues
• Little Queen of Spades
• Sunshine of Your Love
• Before You Accuse Me
(Bo Diddley cover) (with Gary Clark, Jr.) (also with Jimmie Vaughan)