New Orleans Arena
June 12, 2004
I also looked forward to Clapton's concert at The New Orleans Arena Saturday night because of drummer Steve Gadd and pianist/organist Billy Preston. Gadd, of Chick Corea and James Brown, looked energetic and kept rock-hard time. Preston, of The Beatles and Ray Charles, was nowhere to be seen. It was rumored he was attending services for the recently deceased legend. So, instead of 50/50 Clapton/Preston solos throughout the night, I and the crowd were treated to an unusual amount of sonic mastery from one of the greatest guitarists of the 20th century. Clapton was backed by bassist/vocalist Nathan East, guitarist/vocalist Doyle Bramhall II, keyboardist Chris Stanton, and backing vocalists Sharon White and Michelle John.
Clapton wore his traditional crew cut, white shirt and spectacles. He launched into the Derek and The Dominoes song "Let It Rain," and there was no turning back. His rollicking blues/rock/soul music was pumpin'. It was a party in that arena. The band was super-tight, and I'll be comparing Clapton's solos with any other good guitar work for the rest of my life.
Clapton mesmerized with fingerwork and speed, but it was melodic sense that made his music so delightful. He picked moments, using silence as a gift, and he knew just how to progress his notes so that the place filled with tension and then exploded in an outburst of applause and hollers. He made it look easy.
Clapton showed how the blues was done on "Hoochie Coochie Man," and then for the fifth song, he served up the first sing-along of the night, "I Shot The Sheriff." Afterwards, he, East and Bramhall sat close together onstage for an acoustic Robert Johnson mini-set—"Me and the Devil Blues" and "They're Red Hot." The three then got electric for "Milkcows Calf Blues," "Possession Over Judgement Day," and "Kind Hearted Woman Blues." Clapton shouted, yearned, spoke and sang these songs like he inherited them, like they were his.
The full band came back onstage, and the next highlight was the Dominoes' "Have You Ever Loved A Woman?" Clapton's heartbreaking delivery was harrowing("Have you ever loved a woman/So much it's a shame and a sin?"). Wow. Goosebumps and understanding from this side of the stage.
Clapton ended the show with four classics—"Badge," "Wonderful Tonight," "Layla" and "Cocaine." People slow danced around their seats during "Tonight" and the energy in the arena was an adrenaline rush as everyone sung along to the last two.
Clapton came back for an encore of "Sunshine of Your Love" and "Sweet Home Chicago." It kept getting better and better. Just to hear Clapton sing "Sunshine" live. Then, no pun intended, the band let it all hang out for "Chicago," when Stevie Ray's brother Jimmy Vaughn joined them. It was a barnstormer full of solos and guitar fireworks.
Clapton sometimes let his vocal duties go unfulfilled, but this was a top-notch concert. I'd like to say Clapton is the deity they said he was in the '70's, but that would be disrespectful to a certain someone. Let's just say he's an angel in disguise.