Armed with only an acoustic guitar, the elder statesman for the blues took the stage unaccompanied. Wearing a white shirt and very worn looking jeans, he politely waved at the sold out crowd of 16,000 then sat and got down to business. If you have been following the tour, it will come as no surprise that things began with "Key To The Highway". Here, EC proved he can sing and play the blues as if he was from Mississippi.
The boys in the band joined Eric on the next song but things remained acoustic and unplugged. They launched into "Reptile" and expanded its length due to solos from EC and keyboardist extraordinaire David Sancious. Magically, the crowd sensed that Sancious would give EC a run for the money and challenge him musically throughout the night. It paid off as he received the greatest amount of applause when EC introduced the band almost 2 hours later. All the other musicians are veterans of EC's stage and studio bands and are featured on his 2 most recent CDs. Nathan East was brilliant on bass which allowed Steve Gadd to pound his skins to a welt while Andy Fairweather Low was faithful on rhythm guitar. Many of the songs from Reptile desperately lacked the effective backing vocals of the Impressions. Also absent, due to an illness, was Billy Preston.
EC and the band remained unplugged through the first 6 tunes. Throughout, the intensity in the music built until the Stratocaster could remain unplugged no longer. The electric portion of the program began with a set of songs from Pilgrim. The tunes sounded great as they were performed more uptempo than on the CD and without a drum machine! "River of Tears" was a masterpiece where Clapton proved why it was common to see graffiti declaring 'Clapton is God' in the 60s. You could sense the entire crowd staring at Clapton's nimble fingers on the 2 crystal clear video screens on either side of the stage. "Going Down Slow" was performed in almost a reggae mode. Eric bewildered with the pace and the lighting effects on "She's Gone".
The pace temporarily softened with "Don't Let Me Be Lonely Tonight" but was quickly hardened when proceeded by "Travellin' Light". This segued right into "Hoochie Coochie Man" where EC jammed the blues the way he learned from the master, Muddy Waters, himself. As on From The Cradle, "Five Long Years" followed leaving the crowd beggin for more blues. It wasn't to be as the classics came next. For the second time since Clapton took the stage, he was greeted by a standing ovation on the opening bars of "Cocaine". Time may have started to run short because the song didn't include the extended EC jam that was anticipated. After the token "Wonderful Tonight", the crowd was on their feet again for the finale "Layla." It didn't take long for Slowhand and Company to return for their encore of "Sunshine of Your Love". After the usual live, raucous version, the pace changed dramatically for a final unplugged number "Somewhere Over The Rainbow".
The entire performance was very polished and richly rehearsed but contained the occasional spontaneity of the past. EC was professional and stuck to business even though he has recently announced that this will be the final world tour. He didn't turn the concert into a farewell fanfare by reminiscing about his previous 12 Toronto appearances at 5 other venues.
Opening act, Doyle Bramhall II rocked out for 30 minutes. He is featured as the opening act for the majority of the tour. He has contributed significantly to Clapton's 2 latest releases which must have easily guaranteed his spot on the bill. The Austin, TX born singer, songwriter, guitarist kicked it out the most on "Smokestack" and "Green Light Girl". There is part Lenny Kravitz in Doyle's stage presence and music. It won't be long before Bramhall headlines arenas himself.
This review is copyright © 2001 by Tim Holek, and Blues On Stage, all rights reserved. Copy, duplication or download prohibited without written permission. For permission to use this review please send an E-mail to Ray Stiles.
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