Like a Fine Wine, Clapton Just Gets Better with Age

FTC Statement: Reviewers are frequently provided by the publisher/production company with a copy of the material being reviewed.The opinions published are solely those of the respective reviewers and may not reflect the opinions of CriticalBlast.com or its management.

As an Amazon Associate, we earn from qualifying purchases. (This is a legal requirement, as apparently some sites advertise for Amazon for free. Yes, that's sarcasm.)

Twitter icon
Facebook icon
Google icon
StumbleUpon icon
Del.icio.us icon
Reddit icon
e-mail icon
Eric Claption Slowhand at 70 Live Albert Hall

Should someone 70 years old be able to play the guitar like this? Should Vladimir Horowitz have been able to play the piano the way he did in his 80s? While you may have to sacrifice a little finesse, when you’re the master of your instrument age really does become nothing more than a number.

What can be said about Eric Clapton that hasn’t already been said before? Even that line has been said before! I have often found it very interesting that, when guitarists talk about Jimi Hendrix, they say he was the best ever, and they invariably follow up with "I can play him perfectly." Oddly enough, though, I have not heard such banter spoken about Eric Clapton. Yes, there are many that will say, and perhaps justifiably so, that he is the best ever, but I have never heard anyone say they could play him perfectly. Why is that?

Maybe perhaps it is because to play him perfectly would mean you would have to play all the myriad of ways that Clapton has played blues and rock, electric and acoustic.

Who else could play the acid rock guitar of Cream, evolve into straight blues and then for the sake of a Cream reunion some decades later pick his guitar up and instantly start playing acid rock as if he never stopped?

I have heard the term “Often duplicated but never equaled” used to describe many persons and things, but In the case of Eric Clapton perhaps a better phrase would be simply, “The one and only.” And perhaps even to steal the catch phrase from wrestler Brett “The Hitman” Hart,“The best there is, the best there was, and the best there ever will be.”

ERIC CLAPTION: SLOWHAND AT 70 LIVE AT THE ROYAL ALBERT HALL would be the title of an excellent tribute album, where stars would all page homage to him and his music; but this is not the case here. This is Eric Clapton playing Eric Clapton at one of the most famous venues in the world--an event marking the 200th concert he played there, 50 years after the first time with The Yardbirds.

This 2CD/DVD set from Eagle Rock Entertainment captures that historic seven-night run in May of this year, two months after Slowhand turned 70, for all of us to enjoy for years and decades to come.

This is not so much a concert, but a trip through the years. Although there are many songs (listed at the end) that are hits that happened to chronicle the ages, it’s more to me where he is now, where his journey in life has taken him, and where everyone who listens to him just enjoys whatever song he is playing and whatever solo he decides to play (of which, except for certain songs where certain riffs are always familiar and played as part of the song, Eric always seems to play something a little differently--and perhaps that is why no one can say they play him perfectly).

While some of the solos on familiar songs are not as technical as in years past, they are still “right” for the way he has arranged the songs for this concert. But don’t get me wrong, he tears loose in typical Clapton fashion throughout the concert.

Several songs stood out to me over the others (though there's not a bad song in the set): I loved the acoustic version of "Layla." This could have been an excellent opportunity where the audience could have been upset that he did not play it electric, but instead embraced it for what it was as he sat before them, his acoustic guitar in lap, and struck those familiar chords; and the audience loved it. The song starts with this keyboard drone in the background before Eric starts playing; very cool, and the fact that the guitar was perfectly mic’d just added to the overall aura of the song.

"Can’t Find My Way Home" started differently than I had heard it before, in that it was led by bassist Nathan East who also took the lead from Eric on this song. It was done superbly from start to finish, and was one of those instances where Eric steps aside to share the stage. This song led into "I Shot The Sheriff" which is one of those Clapton staples that starts slow and, when it comes time for his solo, starts in the same tempo and just builds from there--and builds, and builds, and builds till you’re just sitting back in awe of what this man can do. What is cool on the DVD is you got to see the standing ovation he received after this song.

This set has a great mix of Clapton favorites as well as other songs not often heard. The thing is, he has played so many years with so many songs, some of them I can’t remember if I have heard him play before or not. But then it doesn’t really matter, because chances are I’ll hear it a little different this time than the last, and it will always be good. I get this feel from anyone who has followed Clapton through the years; they may have some favorites they want to hear, but really, as long as he is just playing, it doesn’t really matter what the song is.

The sound on the CD’s was good, but for my tastes I found the drums and electric keyboards a little too prominent. While they backed off when Eric soloed, it overshadowed his incidental licks, which often times are brilliant in their own regard. Overall, I would have liked to have heard him a little more and the others a little less, as this shortened the depth somewhat of the sound field in my listening space

Make no mistake about it though; this is one fine-tuned ensemble Eric has playing with him. At this point in his career, everyone would have to be. While no spring chickens themselves, the other instrumentalists were superb players that knew how to jam together and bring the songs together as a whole.

The DVD follows the CDs except for "Little Queen of Spades," which is an extra live track at the end and is an excellent companion piece to the CDs. What makes it so good is that you see things that a music CD can’t convey, no matter how good it is. For instance, you can get a sense of the hall they are playing in, as there are certain acoustical characteristics that can be heard that can convey that sense of space, but now you can see what a gorgeous venue it is.  In the DVD, you see the crowd sitting down, respecting the performer and just listening until the appropriate times at the ends of the song. You see that Eric and the band are up on stage, Eric centered most of the time, and they are just playing, no hopping about or jumping around--just playing…awesomely.

One of the most remarkable things about Eric Clapton when he plays (and you have to have seen him to know it) is that he rarely, if ever, has to look down at what he is doing. No matter if it is a slow lead or a full out “take you to school” solo, he just knows where hands and fingers have to be at all times.

The venue itself was dimly lit, with the only light show being whirling shapes displayed across the venue. This was cool to see, because the Albert Hall has these high sides with wraparound tiers and boxes. There were times, too, when video cameras shone the image of Eric playing up on the sides, so you see Eric being shown on top of people in the audience. Very cool indeed.

Camera angles throughout were very good, and we get a good mix of focus on all the performers with the lion's share going of course to Eric and his guitar. There are numerous excellent shots of Eric’s hands and fingers as he plays, as well as some off-centered shots that would make excellent posters. I enjoyed, too, the far away shots of the inside of the hall and stage as the songs were played.

I found the sound mix on the DVD to be better than the CD, and that could have been because my TV has a sound bar and sub-woofer set up. While very good, it is far less detailed than my dedicated sound system. In any case both are very enjoyable.

Eagle Rock Entertainment just has their finger on the pulse of what I like--which isn’t hard, really, because I like a lot of music, but they succeed where many others fail in that they go after a particular artist, or show, or concert that would mean something to so many people and they do it right. They don’t cut corners. Songs and sets are played in entirety and the DVDs often match perfectly with the tracks on the CDs.

This set would be an excellent gift for any music fan, and Clapton fan--even if it was for yourself, really how could you go wrongs with a set like this by the “One and only”?

Also available on BluRay/DVD and 3LP/DVD

Highly recommended: Rating 5 out of 5

 

Songs CD1

  • Somebody’s Knockin’ On My Door

  • Key To The Highway

  • Tell The Truth

  • Pretending

  • Hoochie Coochie Man
  • You Are So Beautiful

  • Can’t Find My Way Home

  • I Shot The Sheriff

CD2

  • Driftin’ Blues

  • Nobody Knows You When You’re Down And Out

  • Tears In Heaven

  • Layla

  • Let It Rain
  • Wonderful Tonight

  • Crossroads

  • Little Queen Of Spades

  • Cocaine

  • High Time We Went

DVD

  • Somebody’s Knockin’ On My Door

  • Key To The Highway

  • Tell The Truth

  • Pretending

  • Hoochie Coochie Man

  • You Are So Beautiful

  • Can’t Find My Way Home

  • I Shot The Sheriff

  • Driftin’ Blues

  • Nobody Knows You When You’re Down And Out

  • Tears In Heaven

  • Layla

  • Let It Rain

  • Wonderful Tonight

  • Crossroads

  • Cocaine

  • High Time We Went

  • BONUS SONG: Little Queen Of Spades