Tonight, I had tickets to see Eric Clapton at the Staples Center. After another long and hard day of work, I rushed from my office to Larchmont Village to grab some cash from the ATM and a couple of sicilian slices from the great Village Pizzeria for dinner. Sadly, I didn't know that the slices of pizza would be the highlight of my night.
Patry and I had bought tix for this show months ago, mainly because we both felt like we should see Clapton before he stops touring or dies (whichever comes first). While I enjoy Clapton, I'm not a huge fan, so I don't know a lot of his material. In my opinion, the few albums I had in the past were spotty at best, and even his greatest hits albums weren't all that great. But that being said, he is Eric Clapton. Slowhand. "Clapton is God!" Etc. The legend had to be seen.
But since we bought the tickets, Patry had to go to Hawaii for work and he donated the 2nd ticket to me. So I shared it with my friend and writing partner, Evil Blake, who is a big Clapton fan.
I rushed to Staples, got parking, and as I tried to wolf down my dinner in my car, I got a call from Blake that the opener, Robert Cray, had finished and Clapton was about to come out. So I rushed to the arena, half-eaten slice in one hand, my root beer in another, hoping not to miss too much of the show.
By the time I got in, Clapton had just started, but I could only hear a muffled tune - something I was unfamiliar with. Sadly, this would be a preview of the show: bad sound and unfamiliar music.
I got to my seat, which was upper level. I had seen a number of shows at Staples from this perspective, (U2, McCartney, the Stones) so I knew that while the stage may seem far away, most acts will compensate with a great stage, major screens, and a great sound system to reach the masses. Sadly, Clapton did not. The staqe was a basic, bare stage with only a rug in the midst of it. There were two flimsy screens hanging just below the upper deck that were kind of hard to see. And the sound quality was about as good as it should have been for an opening act: it was a bit tinny, the vocals were buried, and it just wasn't very loud.
Another thing I've learned after seeing a number of big shows is how important pacing is. The good acts know what the 18,000 fans are there to see: the big hits. And if you play a lot of big hits, you can pepper in some of the new tracks from your latest album or some of the lesser-known tracks from older albums. And if your latest album is huge, then you can play a lot of new tracks. The biggest hit Clapton played in the first hour-and-twenty minutes was a cover of Hendrix's "Little Wing." To finish the first set, he finally played some songs everyone knew: "Wonderful Tonight," followed by "Layla." The encore was an extended "Cocaine" and an incredibly sluggish "Crossroads." Other than that, the only song I recognized was a tune from the "Unplugged" album and a few tunes that sounded familiar, but it was probably more from the basic blues riffs than the actual song. There was no "Sunshine of Your Love." No "White Room." No "Blues Power" or "Bell Bottom Blues." No "Let It Rain." Just a bunch of songs I didn't really know so well.
Not only was the show lacking in hits, it was lacking energy, which to me is almost worse than not playing the hits. I mean, trust me, Clapton can play the fuck out of his guitar, and he's got a very talented band (including the incredibly impressive Derek Trucks playing one hell of a slide guitar), but for all their technical talent, it lacked a certain passion. And you could tell by looking at the audience. Obviously, it was an older crowd, but I've been at shows with crowds this old, and I've never seen a group so sort of "meh" about the whole thing. There was clapping, screaming, some whistling, smoke from a whole bunch of one-hitters and bowls, and all the other typical goodies you'd have at a concert. But there wasn't that sense of "Oh my God, this show is totally melting my mind with greatness!" as I've felt at amazing shows. It was more of an, "Well, isn't this lovely, seeing Eric Clapton perform tonight?" attitude. Honestly, I was just hoping he'd finish quickly so I could come home and go to sleep: "I'm fucking tired, Eric. Please play your hits and hurry up so I can go home and sleep. Thank you."
And let me also bitch about this: every song featured solos...not necessarily Clapton solos, but random band member solos. I leaned over to Evil Blake as the show ended and joked, "The only ones who didn't solo were the back-up singers." And it wasn't that much of a joke. I mean, Clapton let the other two guitar players solo almost more than he did. Now, both of the guitarists were really talented, and while I appreciate generosity, I came to see Eric Clapton, not the two guys playing with him. But let's add in a couple of organ, piano, and bass solos, as well as a few spotlights on the drummer. Damn you for being so team oriented on a solo tour, Eric Clapton!
But now I'm hope and I've vented and feel so much better. I would say that this would rank towards the bottom of the list of concerts I've seen. Just a total bummer. I'll stick with the recordings - I can play them loud and I know Eric's taking all the solos. But hey, at least I can say I saw Clapton play...when his other guitarists didn't.