Eric Clapton and His Band
Verizon Center (formerly the MCI Center)
10 October 2006
Being honest can sometimes be a bit embarrassing.
It most likely will be in this case.
There are a few things I have to be honest about. The first is that I did not know that Clapton was touring this year. The second is that I did not know he had a “new” album to support. Okay, so the album actually came out in 2005, but BACK HOME is the album which this Tour was in support of, and I didn’t even know it existed. You see, my mind can only focus on one or two bands at a time. Life is hectic. I go through musical “phases”, where one band or artist sort of “takes over” my consciousness for a month or so. Sometimes longer. 2005 and the better part of 2006 were devoted, musically speaking, to Mark Knopfler (two albums and two Tours in two years) and U2 (new album, new Tour, just as good as the last in 2001). So when my dad called in early October and asked if my wife and I were free on the night of 10 October because Eric Clapton was coming to town… I was caught off guard. “Of course we’re free! Hell, we’re free even if we’re not free!” Having seen Clapton live on two previous occasions, I could readily testify to his powers with the guitar and his ability to move an audience from back to front, side to side. I can always make time for EC.
Spent a few days researching the Tour online. Read the reviews. Bought the album. Knew the set list. (Disappointed there would be no CHANGE THE WORLD-but I could bear it… maybe). Read that The Robert Cray Band was the opener. Thrilled about that. Skimmed the names of Clapton’s band members. Didn’t readily recognize any of them. (Should have paid more attention to that part. More on that in a few). I was ready. I was psyched. You see, Clapton is one of those artists who can take over my consciousness just as easily as the others. How could he not? I mean, this is the same guy who, back in the ‘60’s, would scrawl “Clapton is God” on the tube walls in London. Anyone with that kind of ego can fit into my life anytime.
But with Clapton, it’s not just ego. This guy has the goods to back it up.
But you know that already.
(Warning-this portion contains strong language and blatant stereotypes. Viewer discretion is advised).
I had to work. All day. Well, at least until five o’clock. The concert started at seven-thirty. So, I left work early. Who wouldn’t? My wife brought the kids from home and we met at my dad’s at four o’clock. Shower, dinner, in the car, out the door. No “pre-concert get-togethers” on this night. Just me and my wife. Next week is our seven year wedding anniversary-hence the free tickets from dad-and this night would just be for us.
95 south to Washington. An hour’s drive-no more. No traffic. Clear skies. Clapton in the CD player. BACK HOME, ONE MORE CAR, ONE MORE RIDER (the soundtrack to the 2001 Tour that we saw together-my wife’s first EC show) JOURNEYMAN, even a little Robert Cray Band for the drive. Into downtown, Northwest D.C. Found a parking garage across the street from the venue. Twenty dollars out of my hand and into the hand of a very suspicious looking Middle Eastern man. He glared at me. Didn’t even say “Thank you”, only: “The garage closes ONE HOUR after the show ends.” Terrorist? (Hey pal, this IS D.C.! They ARE out to get us!) Down into the basement garage. Level B. Level C. Level D. Rock bottom. Very claustrophobic down here. Tight spaces. No way we’re getting out of here before tomorrow morning. Everyone and their entire family parking here for the show. Gonna be a long night. Gonna get locked in the garage. Oh well, the kids are asleep at my dad’s by now. Crap, it’s seven-thirty. We’re gonna miss Robert Cray.
Elevator up to the world again. More Middle Eastern men. Very clean shaven. No smiles. Am I in the right place? The venue was over there when we pulled in… now where is it? Across the street, around the corner, into a flood of pretty people. Rich people. Well dressed. Limos. And me without my Gucci sunglasses and my wife without her Prada purse. Jeans and a button down is what I managed. Not too flashy. My wife looked radiant. Thought I looked good. Until I saw the “money people.” Fuck it; we’re all here for the same thing. The music. Inside the arena. Smiles from the ticket taker. Finally, a smile! Bathroom break. Twenty dollars for a programme. Only twenty? Usually thirty-five. Slap the bill down, grab my programme… and suddenly… is that Clapton I hear? Notes and lyrics from a Clapton song for sure. BAD INFLUENCE from Clapton’s AUGUST album. But THAT is NOT Clapton singing. Shit. Cray is on stage already. What the fuck, it’s only seven forty-five! Down into the portal and out into the dark. Cool air hits us. Feels good. Down the stairs toward the floor. Down. Down. Down. Like the garage but with a much better result. Row T, Seats Three and Four. Twenty rows from the stage. T-W-E-N-T-Y. I could spit and hit the stage. Getting more and more psyched.
Cray finishes two songs later. Missed most of his performance. He was good though, from what I did see and hear. Looks just the same as he did on the album cover from 1986. A little grayer. Acoustics in here are perfect. Lights up, Cray walks off, stage hands walk on. Check my camera. Notice the smell in here. Like spilled beer and puke. Oh well, there is always some drunk girl nearby that can be counted on to spill her beer. Look around. There she is. Two rows back. Drunk and probably already sick. Chattering and laughing into her cell phone. Thanks Drunk Girl, I knew I could count on you. Skim the programme. More on the band members. Should have paid more attention to that part. More on that… now.
(Warning-this portion contains even stronger language, but no more blatant stereotypes. Continued viewer discretion is advised).
From the moment he took the stage, I noticed him. The hair-pulled back in a long blonde pony tail. The shirt - untucked and wrinkled. The dark jeans, baggy. How old is this kid? Twenty-two? Oh yeah, and there was Clapton. Looking a bit grayer as well. Glasses. Clapton grabs the guitar. The band starts PRETENDING. The sound is perfect.
The first “set” consisted of extended “rockers’ full of energy. After PRETENDING came I SHOT THE SHERRIFF, which led straight into GOT TO GET BETTER IN A LITTLE WHILE, OLD LOVE, which found Robert Cray returning to the stage to accompany EC on guitar, ANYDAY and MOTHERLESS CHILDREN. (Never would I have thought that a song about a child whose mother is dead could bring such joy to my face!) I list these first six songs because this set contained some of the most monumentous, powerful and explosive music I have seen and heard in a long time. For those of you who have ever witnessed Mark Knopfler and company tear through a live version of SPEEDWAY AT NAZARETH, imagine the thunderous momentum of the final portion of that song…. then imagine it going on for six full tracks. Non stop. Then multiply that feeling by ten. Then sit down, breathe, and try to imagine standing twenty rows from it. Oh yeah, then try to stop yourself from smiling.
So I’m smiling… and smiling and smiling. Despite the beer/puke smell.
Clapton does not disappoint... but… but…
But my eyes and ears keep shifting back to the kid. We’re deep into GOT TO GET BETTER… The solos go round the band. The kid steps up. Holy shit.
There is an expression I use when I am extremely moved in one direction or the other. It crisply and clearly defines and expresses both anger and joy. It is rude, vulgar, and will most likely offend someone reading this. Be warned. The expression is “Jesus Fuck!” It is short for “Jesus Fucking Christ!” You will decipher it’s meaning in the coming passages.
The kid was Derek Trucks. His name was in the programme. His bio stated that he was the Nephew of Allman Brother’s founding band member and drummer Butch Trucks. It also stated that he was a full time member of both The Allman Brothers Band AND his own band, The Derek Trucks Band. It said he has released six albums and a live DVD. And it said that he was the youngest guitar player (currently age twenty-seven) to be named to Rolling Stone Magazine’s Top 100 Guitarists Of All Time. I should have paid more attention to that. I really should have. Because from the first moment of his first attack, I was astounded. Flat out floored. And by the time his solo came up in GOT TO GET BETTER… I was in another place. Watching this kid play… Jesus Fuck! The floor disintegrated beneath my feet. I wasn’t so much lifted off the floor as the floor simply vanished. I started to float just above where the floor used to be. The kid played the hell out of his guitar-a red Gibson, and forgive me but that’s all I could determine through the haze of his notes-but he never played for the crowd. He primarily played slide guitar, and I have N-E-V-E-R heard slide like that. This kid was no Eddie Van Halen, thank God. No jumping around the stage and showing off like a freak. In fact… he barely moved. In fact, the only part of the kid’s body that DID move was his head, his foot and his hands. From the neck down to the knees, the kid was frozen in place. Memorized and memorizing. Shoulders slightly hunched forward, picking his notes from the air like a skeet shooter. The kid plays with his fingers. That is to say that not only does he not use a pick… but he does not move his wrists. Just fingers. He bobs his head slightly. He taps his foot-or sometimes shifts from left foot to right foot-and he moves his fingers. And moves them fast. Imagine the way Knopfler plays… then imagine Knopfler doing it on speed, cocaine and ecstasy all at once. The kid stands perfectly still-his entire form exuding tension and tightness-and lets it fly. The only thing I can compare it to is this… (be warned again-this one might shock you, but Jesus Fuck it is true):
The kid’s playing evokes exactly the same sensation as that brief but brilliant moment just before an orgasm. Not the orgasm itself, but that glorious moment just prior when you know it is about to happen. Can you image standing on the floor of an arena-one that is filled to capacity with screaming strangers-and being completely immersed in THAT feeling?
At one point during the show, I turned to my wife and said just that: “Jesus FUCK that kid is good.” The look on her face told me that it was a pity we would be sleeping at my dad’s house tonight and not alone in our own bed. A better wedding anniversary gift we could not have asked for.
If Clapton is God, than Derek Trucks is The Almighty Creator, The Father, The Son AND The Holy Ghost all in one. And the most amazing part of all of it was watching what Clapton did when the kid played. Clapton vanished. He melted away. With a knowing smile and a reverent nod, Clapton ushered in the kid, and stepped back into the shadows of far stage left. And there he stayed. Not attempting anything near a show stopping solo or so much as a chord change until the kid was done. Every time. No ego here. None. Oh yeah, there was some other guy named Doyle Bramhall II who played guitar from time to time… but even Clapton stayed on stage while he played. There were two keyboard players, a steady bass player and a solid, thunderous drummer, but I’m telling you folks; this night belonged to the kid. There can be no coincidence that the root word of Derek is Eric, at least phonetically speaking.
But read that carefully. I said when Derek played. When Clapton played, I remembered who I was there to see. The man still has it. Always did, always will. The concert went on. Yeah, it was great. Clapton was awesome, blah, blah, blah. But that KID! JESUS FUCK! I have no doubt that in his mind, Clapton must have felt this kid was the next big thing. I know I did. We all did. And Jesus Fuck he deserves it. If he brings that pre-orgasm feeling to everything else he does, then I can’t wait to get a CD from his band. And hopefully I’ll be screaming Jesus Fuck for a long time to come.
There were a few drawbacks to the show-but only a few. First, the set list. Here is what was played:
I Shot The Sheriff
Got To Get Better In A Little While
Old Love (with Robert Cray)
(Sit Down Set)
I Am Yours
Nobody Knows You When You're Down And Out
Running On Faith
(End of Sit Down Set)
Little Queen Of Spades
Further On Up The Road
Crossroads (with Robert Cray)
The Set List in 2001 was better. I preferred the selections on that Tour, but that is my personal preference. No CHANGE THE WORLD, MY FATHER'S EYES, BADGE or TEARS IN HEAVEN this time out. Second and most annoying were the two extended keyboard solos performed by Tim Carmon. The guy chose to create these long, high pitched notes that sounded too much like actual guitars. With three guitars on stage, one of them being the kid, did we really need a keyboard solo that sounded like a fourth guitar? And he did it twice during the show. And my final complaint-one that some in the crowd voiced amongst each other after the show-was the backdrop and lighting. Clapton used the same stage set in 2001-that same worn, tired, tattered, cloth draped behind the musicians-and the same lighting scheme. Nothing flashy or even unique. Each song used the same basic colors of red, yellow green and blue. Minimal complaints I know, and overall, what a show. After all, when I watched that kid play - Clapton as well - lights, backdrops and everything else disappeared. Perhaps that was exactly what Clapton wanted. No “show”, just a great performance. And that is what we got. Oh, Jesus Fuck did we ever.
THE PARKING GARAGE/THE RIDE HOME:
Out of the arena and away from that smell. Back across the street, no Middle Eastern men here now-we are safe! We wait for an elevator. One comes, fills up, no room for us. We are left riding down into the bowls of the Earth with a father and his teenaged son. Both are glowing. Raving about the kid. I am as well. No orgasm references now, that had yet to come to me-no pun intended. Into the truck, on with the AC, and of course, the EC.
Not an hour, but close. Check the camera and look at the photos I took. And the video. Snippets of the kid jamming. Portion of CROSSROADS-the end part. Soon, the cars move. Then we are out in a flash, Levels B and C having cleared while we waited. Onto New York Avenue and back toward home. Stop at McDonalds for a bite, a choice we would later regret. Homeward bound. Fast and furious. Stuffing french fires in our mouths, slurping a vanilla milk shake. And all the way home we raved and ranted and tried to out do each other with our adjectives.
In the end, we both agreed on two words: