On Sunday night, Eric Clapton played the second of two shows at Madison Square Garden for his 70th birthday celebration. The legendary guitarist brought along some fantastic special guests, along with a solid backing band of bassist Nathan East, keyboardists Paul Carrack and Chris Stainton, drummer Steve Gadd, and singers Sharon White and Michelle John.
For a guy that is 70, it was clear from the get-go that Clapton still can flat-out play with the best of them. As he took the lead during the opening number of “Somebody’s Knocking” you knew that we were getting a healthy serving of blues rock from the man also known as ‘Slowhand.’ John Mayer made an early appearance at the show during “Pretending”; for all of the flack that Mayer gets from a certain collective of ‘fans’ for his integration into the pop culture mainstream, the inescapable fact remains that he is one hell of a guitar player. As Clapton and Mayer traded off solos, it was apparent why this dude is on stage playing with one of the greatest guitarists to ever handle the axe; Mayer has blues running through his veins, whatever the naysayers, well, say.
As the show progressed, fans were treated to a bluesy cover of Willie Dixon’s “Hoochie Coochie Man” that led into a Paul Carrack led “You Are So Beautiful,” doing his best Joe Cocker impression. “I Shot the Sheriff,” a Bob Marley and the Wailers cover that Clapton has been playing since 1974, got some of the geriatrics in the crowd to actually stand up and dance, albeit for a brief moment.
Clapton ran through beautiful versions of “Driftin’ Blues, “Nobody Knows You When You’re Down and Out”, “Tears in Heaven,” and the Derek and the Dominos number “Layla.” As the electric portion of the show came back, he invited Jimmy Vaughan (Stevie Ray’s brother) out to sit-in on the Bo Diddley track “Before You Accuse Me” lending his Dallas, TX infused bluesy, honkty-tonk abilities to the performance.
And what is a Clapton show without paying homage to the King of the Delta Blues himself, Robert Johnson? There isn’t an artist in rock history that has given more love to Johnson’s legacy than Eric Clapton; “Cross Road Blues” and “Little Queen of Spades” were played flawlessly and showcased his obvious influences.
Inviting Allman Brothers/Tedeschi-Trucks Band guitar god Derek Trucks, as well as Doyle Bramhall II (who has played and toured with both Clapton and Roger Waters many times over the years) out for the set-closing “Let It Rain” featured a smile from ear to ear on Clapton’s face as he clearly enjoyed riffing with the two fine guitarists and friends.
For the encore, the legend brought all of his special guests out for a show-closing rendition of Joe Cocker‘s “High Time We Went.” Playing the ever-gracious host, Clapton gave each guitarist the opportunity to solo as the entire group jammed the number until the very end. It has to be pointed out that Derek Trucks proves time and time again why he has stepped into the “Greatest Guitarists of All-Time” conversation. He listens and appreciates, has the patience, and knows exactly when to step up and and take a step back. During “How High” you could see him watching and completely getting into Jimmy Vaughan’s solo before stepping up to the plate; it is no wonder why Clapton hold the the soon-to-be 36 years old with such high regard.
And what more is there to say about Eric Clapton himself? As he enters the “senior citizen” stage of his life, the septuagenarian looks pretty damn good physically, and can still play the guitar as well as anybody out there. Watching his fretwork on the big screen at MSG during his solos, it is clear to see that his fingers are still so nimble, he hasn’t lost a step on the guitar, and even his voice still sounds strong. The opportunity to see one of rock n’ roll’s living legends was certainly not lost on this fan (even if he had to sit in his seat most of the show). Overall, definitely one more off the bucket list. Happy Birthday and many thanks to Mr. Eric Clapton, here is to many more!
– Chris Meyer
Setlist: Eric Clapton ~ 5/3/15 ~ Madison Square Garden, New York, NY:
Key to the Highway (Charles Segar cover)
Pretending (w/ John Mayer)
Hoochie Coochie Man (Willie Dixon cover)
You Are So Beautiful (Billy Preston cover, Paul Carrack on vocals)
Can’t Find My Way Home (Blind Faith cover, Nathan East on vocals)
I Shot The Sheriff (The Wailers cover)
Driftin’ Blues (Johnny Moore’s Three Blazers cover, acoustic)
Nobody Know You When You’re Down and Out (Jimmy Cox cover, acoustic)
Tears in Heaven (acoustic)
Layla (Derek and the Dominos, acoustic)
Before You Accuse Me (Bo Diddley cover, w/ Jimmy Vaughan)
Cross Road Blues (Robert Johnson cover)
Little Queen of Spades (Robert Johnson cover)
Let It Rain (w/ Derek Trucks and Doyle Bramhall II)
High Times We Went (Joe Cocker cover, w/ Trucks, Mayer, Bramhall, Vaughan)