Saturday, May 11, 2013

Eric Clapton review, 02 Arena, Dublin 9 May 2013

I was delighted to receive a complimentary ticket to Eric Clapton's Dublin show (a big thanks to the person who gave it to me!), and perched in excellent seats just behind the short flat part of the floor,settled in to watch Eric and his band stroll on to stage promptly at 8.30pm on this, the opening night of their European tour.

I'm not an out-and-out Clapton fanatic, but have always liked his fluid perfect blues style as well as his songs, voice and bands, so was really looking forward to this gig, which was pretty much the first major concert I've been to in nearly a year.

For the first two songs Eric was on acoustic and allowing the band to kick out and find it's feet, starting with a gentle 'Hello Old Friend' sweetened by some country pedal-steel guitar from Greg Leisz. Next up was 'My Father's Eyes' not a great song, but given a nice reggae tinge in this arrangement and a catchy number for Eric to build up the concert a little before finally strapping on his electric guitar (a black Strat) for 3rd song 'Tell the Truth'. Even now, Eric seemed content to let his 2nd guitar player Doyle Bramhell take the early leads, but in the latter part of the song he finally peeled off a classic solo of his own. Now we really knew we were at an Eric Clapton concert!

I should say that the sound in the room was absolutely perfect, incredibly well mixed, and Eric's band really deserve all their plaudits, including the 2 female backing vocalists who added a lot but were never intrusive. Eric seems in excellent shape as he approaches 70, and his voice is as good as his guitar chops (I've always felt Clapton's voice is very underrated, as is the case with two other guitar heroes of his era, Hendrix and Rory Gallagher).

The 4th song I wasn't familiar with, 'Gotta Get Over' according to the EC fan sites, and had some lovely complicated riffing going on in it. Then we had 'Black Cat Bone' a snappy blues with wonderful playing from the pedal-steel guy, now switched to lap-steel. 'Got to Get Better' was a great funky work-out with Eric and Steve Jordan on drums both very prominent. 'Come Rain or Come Shine' was the closest we'd had yet to a mid tempo tune, gorgeous song, with Eric and Paul Carrack (piano and vocals, and a good singer he is too, a bit like Dr John) trading verses.

Then we had the biggest 'hit' played so far, 'Badge' getting a big roar of recognition from the capacity crowd, and very well played it was too. This closed the first electric set, a quick change of set up, and Eric sets to a few songs seated, and with a stripped down band, playing what looked like a gorgeous enormous red Grelsch. The first song was 'Drifting' with nice fingerpicking from the main man and organ solo from Carrack, followed by a song from the new album I think, preceding a gentle 'Layla', done a la the Unplugged album but with a bit more swing. Chris Stainton got to play a nice keyboard solo on it.

Next up was the first of a few Robert Johnson related songs which Eric has been featuring in recent legs of his tour. And perhaps there was some extra significance to the Johnson songs, as yesterday would have been his 102nd birthday! 'Stones in my Passway' has a Crossroads-esque riff, with some stunning tempo-switches, something I always like in a blues song. Then Paul Carrack got to sing one, prior to Eric taking up the mic again with a somewhat throwaway shuffle-tpye arrangement of 'Lay Down Sally'. The stripped-down set then draws to a close with one of Eric's biggest hits, a faithful rendition of 'Wonderful Tonight' nicely done, and with Doyle Bramhall playing the famous guitar solo.

Back to electric, kicking off with a song called 'Blues Power', a kind of old fashioned R'n'B song, prior to 'Love in Vain' bringing the ghost of Robert Johnson nicely to life again on this chilly Dublin summer's evening. Excellently done, in a more brisk arrangement than the famous Rolling Stones version, and then kicking straight in to 'Crossroads' a major highlight of the night, finishing up as it does these days with Clapton and Bramhall tossing solos at each other almost casually, but always solos of stunning quality.

Coming close now to the end of the show, they played 'Queen of Spades' probably the most long slow traditional blues of the night, and again of the highest quality. Truly wonderful band playing. I think I've mentioned most of them by now, but a quick mention of the rhythm section wouldn't go astray, with Willie Weeks on bass and Steve Jordan on drums having a huge impact on how this 'big-ish but tight' band gels, rocks and moves, providing the ultimate platform for Mr Clapton to do his thing. Last but not least then, the closing song of the night was a superb 'Cocaine', bringing the crowd to it's feet and a big ovation for all the musicians as they leave the stage after two hours of classic blues based music.

Eric wasn't done though, and back out they came for a 2 song 15-minute encore, first a true-to-life rendition of the Cream classic 'Sunshine of your Love' again with Paul Carrack getting to share vocal verses, before closing with 'High Time we Went', not a song I know well, but a decent closing number.

So, off we went in to the night, truly sated with a show that had virtually everything that music can offer, exemplary musicianship/songs/singing, great sound in what is a very good venue for such a big room, and of course for anyone who likes guitar, it has never ever gotten much better than this, Eric Clapton himself - still very close to the top of his game after 50 years on the road. If he's playing your town, go! 9/10.

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