3/03/2011

Eric Clapton: A Deep and Honest Dedication to the Blues

On the evening of February 28, 2011, Eric Clapton appeared at the Rose Garden in Portland, Oregon, and deftly showed a delighted audience why he is rightly regarded as a master musician. The British superstar, who was casually dressed in a plaid shirt and dark pants, gave a confident and mature performance that was worthy of his formidable reputation. Aside from a few visual effects provided by a wall of colored lights at the rear of the stage, the straightforward quality of the music was kept firmly in the forefront.

Eric Clapton has come a long way from his youthful beginnings as a guitarist in London during the 1960s. Starting out with The Yardbirds and then playing with John Mayall, he soon achieved enormous fame with Cream, Blind Faith, Plastic Ono Band, Delaney and Bonnie and Friends, and Derek and The Dominos. In later years, working under his own name, he established himself as a musician and songwriter of the highest eminence, appearing at major venues around the world. Throughout his varied history, recording with everyone from The Beatles ("While My Guitar Gently Weeps") to Aretha Franklin ("Good to Me As I Am to You"), he has maintained a deep and honest dedication to the blues, the form of music that served as his earliest inspiration.

The globe-trotting guitarist kicked off his set with "Key to the Highway," from Layla and Other Assorted Love Songs, the album that he recorded with Derek and The Dominos in 1970. Among the songs that followed were "Going Down Slow," "Hoochie Coochie Man," "Old Love," and Bob Marley's "I Shot the Sheriff." Although Eric Clapton will be sixty-six on March 30, it was quickly apparent that age has failed to diminish the power of his distinctive musicianship. One glimpse of him standing with his head tilted back, fully caught up in the earthy force of his own sound, shaking his leg to the beat as he unleashed a breathtaking cluster of fiery tones from his blue Stratocaster, was enough to prove that his musical vigor remains fully intact.

For the middle part of his performance, he sat down on a chair for a string of songs that included "Driftin'," "Nobody Knows You When You're Down and Out," "River Runs Deep" (from his latest album, Clapton, released in September of 2010), “When Somebody Thinks You're Wonderful” (also from Clapton), "Same Old Blues," and "Layla" (which was performed quietly, in an almost offhand manner). He then got up from his chair and tore into "Badge" (a song that he wrote with George Harrison), followed by "Wonderful Tonight," "Before You Accuse Me," "Little Queen of Spades," and "Cocaine." After leaving the stage for several minutes, he returned (with a shy smile on his face) for an encore, and charged through "Crossroads."

While Eric Clapton's singular talent on the guitar is a given, his voice also was strong throughout the evening, and he received solid support from his band, with both Chris Stainton on piano and Tim Carmon on organ particularly standing out. Eric Clapton is an experienced performer, and he was willing to oblige the crowd by offering a fair number of his most widely known tunes, but it seemed that he was happiest, and most engaged, when he could lose himself in his profound love of the blues, playing the vintage songs that he had learned from old recordings.