September 18, 2021


He did play a half-dozen hits, including “Tears in Heaven” and a drowsy acoustic shuffle version of “Layla.” And he chased them with his usual flurry of blues standards, including a slow, swinging take on Willie Dixon’s “I’m Your Hoochie Coochie Man.”

Some of the high points arrived in unexpected tunes, like the funky Derek & the Dominos outtake “Got To Get Better In A Little While” and a pair of lovely unplugged tunes: the new instrumental “For Kerry,” and Fleetwood Mac’s “Man of the World,” which he dedicated to the late Peter Green.

He got impeccable backing from his 8-piece band which featured veteran drummer Steve Gadd, bassist Nathan East and Paul Carrack, who stole the spotlight with his gospel-tinged organ solos. But the star of the group was his longtime left-hand man, Dallas-born guitarist Doyle Bramhall II, whose semi-dirty textures provided the perfect contrast to Clapton’s more fluid style.

Clapton ended the show on a high note, with another Big D native, guitarist Jimmie Vaughan, adding fuel to the fire on Joe Cocker’s hit “High Time We Went.”

I was there, and was thrilled to be back seeing live music in an arena. Walking across the pedestrian bridge from the parking garage to the area, it appeared that perhaps one out of 50 early arrivals were wearing masks. However, as opening act Jimmie Vaughan took the stage, the late arriving audience members appeared to have a much higher percentage entering wearing masks. Perhaps the early crowd took their cue from seeing so few masks, and vice-versa.

This is the third time I’ve seen Clapton live. The first was in 1983, when Clapton, then newly-released from rehab in Hazelden (his first of two stints there) was on his “Money and Cigarettes” tour. The second was in 1988, when Clapton was in his Miami Vice-style Gianni Versace phase.

Today, at 76, Clapton looks the part of the grizzled road warrior, but unlike other septuagenarian rockers, his voice is still strong, and he’s still got his fabled guitar chops. Dusting off “Gotta Get Better in a Little While,” a once fairly obscure song from Derek and the Dominos’ 1973 live album, is both a timely message, and a reminder that Clapton’s playing can return to his fiery early days when he wants it to.

There were a couple of disappointments, though. Clapton’s switch to acoustic guitar mid-set is a nice way to break up the concert, and thanks to his best-selling MTV Unplugged concert, went down well with the audience, aside from a few drunken hecklers who want to get back to the electric boogieing. (The live version of “Tears in Heaven” was quite moving, knowing the song’s tragic backstory.) However, while the acoustic version of “Layla” that Clapton worked up for the MTV concert is quite pretty, nothing beats the hard rocking original, and its magnificent piano coda.

Also, Clapton’s set was over almost exactly 90 minutes after it began, after only one perfunctory encore, leaving many in the audience disappointed. (not least of whom me!) After one year and nearly seven months on the sidelines thanks to COVID, presumably a younger Clapton would celebrated his return with a much longer set.

As the above Dallas Morning News article noted: “The Clapton COVID Kerfuffle marks an unexpected chapter in the career of a musician who’s long presented himself as apolitical. You have to go back 45 years for the previous chapter, and that one was a doozy: the infamous 1976 anti-immigrant rant he made onstage in England during the height of his drug and alcohol addictions. That tirade inspired Britons to launch the Rock Against Racism movement.”

Or as this recent Rolling Stone headline screamed, “Eric Clapton Takes Break From Slagging Lockdown to Release New Music.” (Apparently Rolling Stone’s current crop of writers and editors don’t realize that the venerable magazine exists for, and was created to publish crazy quotes from rock stars.)

I’m vaccinated, and I disagree with a fair chunk of Clapton’s take on this topic. But I’ve been used to rock stars having err, offbeat takes on a myriad of issues for my whole life. However, the lockstep left cannot process anyone disagreeing with whatever their current stance is. Or as William F. Buckley famously said, “Liberals claim to want to give a hearing to other views, but then are shocked and offended to discover that there are other views.”

I’m not all that interested in the medical advice of a legendary rock star — and conversely, I really don’t seek music opinions from medical experts. But I’m glad he’s back out on the road, and live concerts have finally resumed.

(Or to put it another way: Ignoring Them Is the Only Way Out. “Public-health authorities don’t know how to stop giving you extra-restrictive advice. And they can’t learn how to stop giving it if we don’t learn how to stop asking for it. Or until we start ignoring what they say, and start punishing politicians who translate their guidance into nuisances.”)

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