Slowhand Clapton plays the last seconds of the sweet, acoustic “Tears in Heaven.” He stands, as the applause fades, and his acoustic guitar is swapped for an electric. With no comment, no story, no introduction, Clapton steps up to the mic again. Because my familiarity with his discography is made up of just bits and pieces, I’m startled by the first verse of “White Room.” And I’m excited. The man is damn good live.
I waited a long time to see this concert. I bought my ticket nine months ago for a show Eric Clapton was supposed to play at The Forum in March, which was postponed when he fell ill a few days beforehand. Luckily, whoever’s in charge was kind enough to add a couple of shows to his September visit, and I got to see him play Saturday night.
When I bought these tickets last year, I had never listened to Clapton. But, working off the questionable concept that since I had heard of him he must be worth listening to, the knowledge that this was a 50th anniversary show, and my memory of being awestruck by Jeff Beck’s 50th anniversary show, I bought the ticket. Then I started listening to his music, and, lucky for me, I found that I love it. Granted, there’s still a lot of Clapton I haven’t heard, but there were only a few songs at the concert I wasn’t familiar with.
Jimmie Vaughan, followed by Gary Clark Jr., opened the show. I hadn’t heard of Gary Clark Jr. before, but he was so good that, until Eric Clapton walked on stage, I thought Eric Clapton wasn’t going to be the best part of his own show. One of my favorite moments of the whole night happened during Gary Clark Jr.’s set. As he covered The Beatles’ “Come Together,” the entire audience sang along to the chorus, and it made my heart stop.
Clapton played a few songs from the Derek & The Dominoes album, including one of the songs I was hoping to hear: the bluesy, acoustic version of “Layla,” which always strikes me as being sort of brilliant. “Sort of brilliant,” of course, doesn’t really do Eric Clapton justice, all things considered. And when I say, “The man is damn good live,” I mean, “The man is damn good live.” He turned 72 this year, and I’m sure you couldn’t tell if you were just listening. He’s still got it.
I don’t think he said more than five words all night, and four of those were “Thank you,” twice. He walked on stage and played a fourteen-song set, one right after another, intermittently changing guitars, playing songs from different eras of Slowhand, letting the music speak for him and itself.
He ended with “Cocaine,” and exited amidst applause that echoed loudly back and forth across the auditorium. We applauded, waiting for an encore. And we kept applauding. And waiting. And applauding. And waiting. And just when I thought he actually wasn’t going to come back, he walked on stage again to play “Before You Accuse Me.”
This is, allegedly, going to be Clapton’s last tour. Who knows? I’m glad I went. As I’ve told everyone who’s asked: It was fucking amazing.