Concert: Eric Clapton in Universal City, CA
In a two-hour tour-de-force boasting a repertoire that spanned nearly 90 years, Eric Clapton finished the second night of a two-night stand in Los Angeles on Wednesday (3/9) with plenty of gas in the tank.
Clapton, every bit the guitar master at 65 that he proved to be in recent decades, struck a number of instrumental voices over the course of his set at the Gibson Amphitheatre at Universal CityWalk, from the lyrical runs providing lift-off for the set's opener, "Keys To The Highway," to the earthier blues fireworks in "Old Love" and "Little Queen of Spades," to the playful side in "When Somebody Thinks You're Wonderful" and the gracious simplicity of "Wonderful Tonight."
Which is not the say the show was perfect. An acoustic set making up the middle third of the set overstayed its welcome, and keyboardist Chris Stainton, for all his technical proficiency, had some issues locking into the pocket of the rock-solid grooves laid down by bassist Willie Weeks and drummer Steve Gadd.
Keyboardist Tim Carmon mostly focused on organ, but was showcased to great effect on synth during the aforementioned "Old Love" and "Little Queen of Spades," which formed early and late set bookends that provided some of the most dynamic and virtuosic high points of the evening, with Carmon and Clapton producing some real heat during their spotlights.
Fretwork aside, one of the more unique and valuable things that Clapton brings to the table as a musician is his breadth of material. Wednesday's show reached back to early '20s for Jimmy Cox's "Nobody Knows You When You're Down and Out," touched on the mid-'30s for Fats Waller's take on Henry Woods' "When Somebody Thinks You're Wonderful" and Robert Johnson's "Little Queen of Spades." "Key To The Highway" dates to the '40s and "Hoochie Coochie Man" hails from Willie Dixon in the '50s.
That Clapton still positions himself as a student of past masters leaves him plenty of room to continue evolving his interpretation of their work, and his craft has thrived in that light.
If any part of Clapton's stagecraft offers a definitive nod to his calendar age, it's his singing, which is just slightly less nimble and expressive than during the height of his acoustic renaissance period, and probably owes in part to the exclusion of the pitch-demanding "Tears In Heaven" from the set.
But Clapton's musical footprint has never been primarily about his singing chops, and it's fair to assume that should a future show involve less singing and more guitar playing, few would complain.
Openers Los Lobos unleashed one of their more fiery guitar displays in their hometown during a solid 45-minute set that held up well against the main event. Setlist mainstays "Mas Y Mas" and their take on the Grateful Dead's "Bertha" burned bright, and laid out a solid welcome mat for Clapton.
Eric Clapton's setlist:
Key To The Highway
Going Down Slow
Hoochie Coochie Man
I Shot The Sheriff
Nobody Knows You When You're Down And Out
River Runs Deep
When Somebody Thinks You're Wonderful
Same Old Blues
Before You Accuse me
Little Queen Of Spades
9 - Dublin, Ireland - 02 Arena
10 - Belfast, Northern Ireland - Odyssey Arena
12 - Glasgow, Scotland - SECC
14, 15 - Cardiff, Wales - International Arena
17-18, 20-21, 23-24, 26-27, 29-30 - London, England - Royal Albert Hall
1 - London, England - Royal Albert Hall
6 - Helsinki, Finland - Hartwall Arena
8 - Stockholm, Sweden - Ericsson Globe
9 - Oslo, Norway - Norwegian Wood Festival
11 - Herning, Denmark - Jyske Bank Boxen