Tuesday, March 08, 2011

Wonderful Tonight


and a half.

Last Thursday I got to see the legendary Slowhand in action at the Arco - wait - Power Balance Arena in Sacto. We had floor seating (nice!) so we could have a good look at EC in action. One note about floor seating, they really need to start compensating for the obesity problem in America when doing these events. The chairs were so small I had trouble fitting on it and then I was crowded out of the left side of my chair by the larger guy next to me. He wasn't even trying to crowd me, he was actually trying to not do that throughout the show (which was very considerate of him). I was sore for days from having to sit like a contortionist for 3 or so hours.

When the show started first up was opening act Los Lobos. Los Lobos has been around for decades and is a respected act that I like yet know very little about. I have How Will The Wolf Survive and the La Bamba soundtrack and that's about the depth of my Los Knowledge. I have such limited knowledge of their music that my memory of the set list is like this:

Some song with a loping shuffling groove / Another song with a loping shuffling groove / Evangeline? That name seemed to be in the chorus/ A song in Spanish that wasn't La Bamba I think by the dude that always wears sunglasses / A song they said was their new song which was really good, one of those slow bluesy number thingys / I don't remember what happened next / I think a song in Spanish that still wasn't La Bamba / Don't Worry Baby / Another song I think it was a cover of something/ La Bamba - Good Lovin

Poor Los Lobos, I couldn't fill a thimble with what I know about them yet judging from the audience reaction I was their biggest fan there. I was impressed with their tight performance and tasteful blending of old school rock n roll with Spanish music. In particular, the big dude that sings lead most of the time and lead guitar was really good. Had no idea he could play like that, very soulful guitar from that guy. The sunglasses guy, probably as close to a visual trademark as Los Lobos has, sang lead a couple of times. Sunglasses guy tried hard to get the audience to engage and sing or clap along mostly to no avail. Probably because the crowd had no idea what they were playing, even when they covered other people's songs (like Good Lovin). So Los Lobos likely didn't make any new fans that evening judging from the smattering of applause they got as they left the stage, too bad as they came across as a very good band.

After the stage changed over the lighting changed to resemble that of a smoky bar and living legend Eric Clapton walked out. The set list ran as:

Key To The Highway / Going Down Slow / Hoochie Coochie Man / Old Love / I Shot The Sheriff / Driftin' / Nobody Knows You When You're Down And Out / River Runs Deep / Same Old Blues / When Somebody Thinks You're Wonderful / Layla / Badge / Wonderful Tonight / Before You Accuse Me / Little Queen Of Spades / Cocaine

Encore: I guess it was Crossroads, we were leaving to beat the traffic at that point.

Clapton opened with "Key To The Highway" and the audience got their butts off their chairs to greet the guitar God. The gently upbeat tone of the song matched that of most of his solo work - meaning it was time to get excited in a laid back sort of way with occassional fireworks. That's not a bad thing, that seems to be his demeanor and music should match the artist. Still I got a kick out of the set list going right to "Going Down Slow" as song two, all but ensuring the enthusiastic crowd would sit back in their seats.

The guitarist is known for being somewhat reticent about being a STAR which made for a refreshing approach from what is normally an ego driven format (Rock music). Clapton gave plenty of room for his accomplished sidemen to strut their stuff and noticeably did not have a key spotlight shining on him from the front. He was lit from the back like the rest of the band. The sharing of the limelight also probably allowed EC to rest up for his big moments, at his age he likely doesn't have the energy to go all Joe Satriani on us and blaze away for two hours nonstop (the exception being Mick Jagger to this statement since he works out a lot and all).

After "Hoochie Coochie Man", the show really hit it's stride with a lengthy "Old Love". Starting with just Clapton playing and then sliding into a slow building cresendo of keyboard / guitar solo magic, "Old Love" was the highlight of the evening for me. When Clapton would get psyched on his solo he'd lift his left leg up while fluidly zipping up and down his fret board. Keyboardist Tim I think he said last name Cowans matched Clap with a blazing solo on a synth with a Stevie Wonder "Superstition" sound.

Despite being crowded by the guy next to me, I have to admit I was OK with it because the dude was a true fan. He sang along with the lesser known songs like "Old Love" and knew his stuff. What I wasn't OK with was the douche sitting behind me. This guy ran his mouth throughout the whole show, his dumbass voice cutting through the concert sound system (which was mixed evenly and to perfection which is saying a lot for a Sacto show, Power Balance Arena formerly Arco Arena has long held the nickname "Echo" Arena.). The guy went on and on about how he was here for one song, "Cocaine", and talked about it through all the other songs. Even big hits like "Layla" and "Wonderful Tonight" weren't immune to his yapping. Douche.

Meanwhile, EC started what seemed like random scratching on his guitar before the band kicked in to "I Shot The Sheriff". They were on a strong roll after "Old Love" culminating in Clapton shouting an inspired "If I am guilty I will pay!!" towards the end.

Not to be ageist, it's no secret that Clapton is an old guy now. It wasn't too surprising the middle section of the concert was a lengthy sit down performance of mostly slow blues numbers ("Nobody Knows You...", "River Runs Deep", "Same Old Blues"). EC did use this time wisely to include selections from his recent self titled album and some lightness ("When Somebody Thinks You're Wonderful"). It was interesting to see the guitar ace's knee bounce all over while playing, kind of wobbling about. The sit down session culminated in the unplugged arrangement of "Layla" though Clapton was playing an electric guitar.

The rest did EC good as he stood up for a fiery "Badge". The crowd, restless from sitting through slow jams and replentished from their bathroom break, lept up to their feet. There was fist pumping, cheering and middle aged women reverting to teenage "Heeyy, that's my jaaammm" mode. For a moment it felt like how it must have been like to see Clapton 30 years ago. Standing before the audience delivering powerhouse guitar work. Again, Clapton doesn't want people to stand up for too long as he switched moods again to the prom stand by "Wonderful Tonight".

It was back to the blues with one of Clap's favorite covers the rollicking "Before You Accuse Me". And again to slo jam mode for Robert Johnson's "Little Queen Of Spades".

To close his main set, EC dished out the long awaited "Cocaine". The audience got all fired up again and rightfully so. Even the douche had to shut up for a moment.

We left at this point I've read online that the encore was "Crossroads" with a slightly mellower take, I'm sure it was great.

My only complaint about the concert itself was that it felt a bit short, then again citing Clapton's age it's probably not realistic to expect too long a show (or for him to play "Bell Bottom Blues" I guess). Eric Clapton sang and played excellently and his backing band was very good. Even after all these years, Clapton can still be considered God.

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