Eric Clapton at PPG: A Fine Multi-faceted Gem

Eric Clapton playing his Stratocaster at Royal Albert Hall in 2017. (Photo: Raph_PH and Wikipedia)

Eric Clapton playing his Stratocaster at Royal Albert Hall in 2017. (Photo: Raph_PH and Wikipedia)

Guitar virtuoso Eric Clapton played his first U.S. dates Friday night at PPG Paints Arena since tour stops earlier this year in Europe and Japan. The packed house saw a diverse mix of songs and styles.

Clapton and his band took the stage and opened with two The Band songs as a tribute to the late Robbie Robertson. They were “The Shape I’m In” and “It Makes No Difference.” Both sounded fantastic, replete with whirling Hammond organ.

He continued with two blues covers: “Key to the Highway” (Charles Segar) and “I’m Your Hoochie Coochie Man” (Willie Dixon). Next Clapton launched into the reggae rock classic, and a mega hit for him in 1974, “I Shot the Sheriff.” Which is originally a Bob Marley song. The audience was super excited by the first Clapton hit of the night.

That was followed by the acoustic portion of the set. More blues covers: “Driftin’ Blues” (Johnny Moore’s Three Blazers), “Nobody Knows You When You’re Down and Out” (Jimmy Cox), and “Call Me the Breeze” (J.J. Cale).

In the “MTV Unplugged” period of the early ‘90s Clapton saw renewed popularity with his Unplugged album with its acoustic version of “Layla,” a song he recorded as a member of Derek and the Dominos. Unplugged also contained “Tears in Heaven.” The Layla acoustic version is melodic and fun, but the plugged-in version is one of the best rock songs ever and I would have rather heard the original version.

“Tears in Heaven” is a poignant remembrance song to his son Conor who died in a tragic accident. It was beautifully sung by Clapton as he played his acoustic guitar. He was accompanied on acoustic guitar, on that song and others in the set, by a second guitarist. Several members of the band also contributed.

Coming out of the acoustic set Clapton served up some red meat for the Clapton rock song fans. It was the incendiary, “Tearing Us Apart.” The tune featured blazing guitars and a hard, driving beat. The set slowed down again with the lovely, “You Look Wonderful Tonight,” from the 1977 album Slowhand. Next were two Robert Johnson covers: “Cross Road Blues” and “Little Queen of Spades.” Clapton showcased his guitar playing prowess on those two songs with a two-toned Gibson. In the opening set he played a black Stratocaster.

The last song of the set was “Cocaine,” also from Slowhand. This electrified the audience. The encore song was another cover, “High Time We Went” (Joe Cocker). Clapton was joined by Jimmie Vaughan, Stevie Ray Vaughan’s brother, who had an exciting blues set as the opening act. Clapton’s band were all very talented including the two backup singers.

In 1960’s England, graffiti was spotted, and widely reported, that said “Clapton is God.” Well, almost. He has earned extra privileges by his success and talent. If he wants to play blues covers instead of his rock songs, that is his right. If he doesn’t want to banter with the audience that is his right. In this reviewer’s humble opinion the concert would have been better with more Clapton songs, and more Clapton rock songs at that. However, it was still amazing to witness a legendary guitarist at work. Eric Clapton is 78 years young and doesn’t seem to have lost a step vocally or with his guitar playing.

Rick Handler is the executive producer of Entertainment Central.

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