Eric Clapton shown up by Doyle Bramhall II in Vancouver

Eric Clapton & Steve Winwood Perform At Royal Albert Hall In London


A few days before attending last Friday’s Eric Clapton/Robert Cray show, I came across a timely TV broadcast of Taylor Hackford’s 1986 concert documentary, Chuck Berry: Hail! Hail! Rock ‘N’ Roll. Both Clapton and Cray are featured in it, the former performing the smokin’ slow blues, “Wee Wee Hours”, and the latter–besides joining the likes of Keith Richards in Berry’s backup band–taking the spotlight on “Brown Eyed Handsome Man”. Seeing that film was the perfect way to psych myself up for the gig, but it also made me determined to invest in the deluxe four-disc DVD released last June.

There goes next month’s Pilsner fund.

I’m pleased to report that the sterling performances by Clapton and Cray in Hackford’s killer doc were representative of what went down at GM Place. Cray’s six-song, 30-minute opening set was flawless, from the familiar “Phone Booth”, off his 1983 album Bad Influence (the title track of which Clapton covered three years later), to the lesser known “Twenty”, a heart-tugging tribute to young soldiers dying needlessly in a rich man’s war.

“Someone told you a lie,” sang Cray in his sweet-toned voice, “and they’re still tellin’ it.” Few electric bluesmen can surpass Cray’s playing when it comes to economy and emotion. No wonder his choice of on-stage amp is Matchless. When Clapton’s band hit the stage and launched into the 1970 Derek and the Dominos stomper, “Tell the Truth”, I was disheartened to see that guitar wunderkind Derek Trucks wasn’t in the lineup, but all concerns about his absence were defused by the time Clapton and coguitarist Doyle Bramhall II began their fourth selection, Jimi Hendrix’s “Little Wing”.

The numerous guitar freaks in the crowd got their jollies as two cameras set up in front of the stage focused mostly on the two pickers, with close-ups of their fancy fretwork transmitted to video screens. Throughout the show, Clapton, despite his Slowhand moniker, proved the speedier player; 38-year-old Bramhall displayed more of a raw, edgy feel. He was the tastier of the two, actually.

After a sit-down acoustic segment, the familiar “diddle-oodle-oodle-ooo” riff from “Layla” signalled the arrival of that 1970 guitar opus. For the encore, Clapton chose the signature song he stole from J.J. Cale, “Cocaine”, but it’s been so long since I’ve done any of that shit (got any?) that I couldn’t remember if the tune was pro- or anti-nose candy. All I know is that I scored a serious buzz when the night ended with my fave Clapton staple, Robert Johnson’s “Crossroads”. Cray couldn’t stay backstage for that one, so he came out and sang the first verse, then took the second guitar solo. Sweeeet.

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