Saturday, June 19, 2004

deification of humility

E. C. was here June 18, 2004. Philips Arena, Atlanta, GA. Three years plus since the last time I saw him perform. Closer to the stage than the last time around, but still a little way to go before I get up close there (succumbing to the commercial overheads of $$$-hungry Ticketmaster might get me there). Familiar faces all around: Steve Gadd on drums, Nathan East on bass. Billy Preston was to man the Hammond, but was sick, giving me a chance to catch Tim Carmon instead. Chris Stainton manned the keyboards on the right (my POV, looking at the stage). Doyle Bramhall II had opened with a clique called Smokestack in 2001. Now he was the accompanying guitarist (replacing and offering a different set of skills more suited to the song list than regular Andy Fairweather-Love). Sharon White and Michelle John provided backing vocals. Jimmy Vaughan opened with his backing band, but we caught the tail end of the act (thanks to an usher who insisted that he was right and the signs weren't!).

What a song list. An EC triviamonger's dream come true, aside from the regulars and the expected selections from the new album. And the Crash3 Fender looked really really cool. [CAVEAT: memory lapses may have affected the order of songs]

* Let it Rain: audacious. Off his eponymous début album, this track should have come as no surprise even to the casual Clapton listener who owns The Cream of Clapton. Unsteady sound levels here, but mercifully they got sorted out somewhere near the end of the second song.

* Hoochie Coochie Man. Off From the Cradle (now there's a concert I would give anything to have been able to attend!)

* Walk out in the rain: Dylan wrote this for EC's Backless (the title itself was a back-handed reference to Dylan!). Interesting pick, and a nice pleasant song (glad Dylan never sang it!)

* I Want a Little Girl: this one came off Reptile. At this point I was really impressed with the track list. A great variety, if ever, although this was probably the safest pick given that he couldn't have the Impressions back just for one number!

* I Shot the Sheriff: the last time I saw him live, EC played infectious misleading extended openers for both My Father's Eyes (thus relieving it of some of the electronica crud) and Layla. This time he did something similar by grooving into a riff that was slightly off-kilter ... just enough to marginally disguise the reggae beat. But once he dove into the classic riff, the place went up in a roar.

The laconic EC now says that they would now be playing a few Robert Johnson songs and is now seated centre stage with his acoustic guitar, Bramhall to his right, and East to his left.

* Me and the Devil Blues: o how I wish Jerry Portnoy was performing too!

* They're Red Hot

* If I Had Possession (Over Judgement Day): a switch to the electric.

* Milk Cow Blues

* Kind-Hearted Woman Blues

And with that we got back into the mainstream segment ...

* Got to Get Better in a Little While: moment to fall out of my seat. This was a track on the abandoned second Derek and the Dominos album (restored with love on the excellent Crossroads box set). Great wah-wah guitar.

* Have You Ever Loved a Woman: a song that benefits from EC's maturing voice while still staying cheekily relevant to his past (... But all the time you know/She belongs to your very best friend). Another great soloing break.

* Badge: Yeah, Cream time. The backing riff sounds as open as it did on the other live recordings I've heard. I somehow liked the cleanness of the studio take on the riff ...

* Wonderful Tonight: Time for couples to dance and be captured on the large screens overhead ...

* Layla: EC dove straight into this without any misleading prelude or soloing. Bramhall did a decent job on the slide, but was unable to make up for Duane Allman's absence. And this song must rank as the *best* rock song ever (Stairway to Heaven builds up to a crescendo; this song goes the other way around, grabbing you from the opening riff, before gently simmering down into the extended piano segment).

* Cocaine: The closer boasted another great EC solo. Just watching him play is both an inspiring and humbling experience for aspiring guitarists.

* Encore/Sunshine of your Love: Yep, it had to be. Am proud to say I clapped for every second from the band's exit to the moment they reappeared. Red palms and aching arms. But it was worth it.

* Encore/Sweet Home Chicago: Jimmie Vaughan joined the band for a solo exchange jam. Tim Carmon even played one back at EC by keying out a guitar-toned solo on the ivories.

By the time I was out of the place, the burgeoning perspiration clogging my collar didn't matter much. Even waiting for the train in a crowd didn't seem to be a problem. Someone was holding up a "Clapton is God" poster on the other side of the platform. Truer words were never spoken.

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