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Clapton is still the god of rock and blues

By Erik S. Bailey

In the 1960's, graffiti in England proclaimed "Clapton is God." More than thirty years later, Tuesday's performance to a sold-out audience at the Fleet Center justified those scrawlings with a vengeance. The tour, sponsored by Lexus, is to support his new album, Pilgrim, which has received mixed reviews from the press.

Fans showed up en force to hear the guru of both electric and acoustic blues guitar work his magic. And work his magic he did - everyone in the Fleet Center was mesmerized by the master for more than two hours as he introduced his newer songs and wailed out old Clapton classics, some dating back to 1967 when he was with the band Cream.

As to be expected, the first third of the concert was from Pilgrim. Clapton kicked things off with the widely-aired song "My Father's Eyes," which he seemed to use to test-out the audience, and then gradually integrated the 24-piece string section behind his band. Next up on the set-list was "Pilgrim," followed by "River of Tears," and "Goin' Down Slow." On the album, these tracks sound more like a hip-hop and blues hybrid; but in live performance, these songs made evident Clapton's ability to write songs which work well with blues scales and his slow, lyrical style of improvisation. The combination was pure genius - a new sound that seemed to be accepted well with the audience. The last song he played from his new album, "She's Gone," really rocked the house and worked up the crowd's level of excitement.

At the end of "She's Gone," Clapton switched gears to the style brought back into the mainstream by MTV's Unplugged and the band played slightly upbeat versions of "Tears in Heaven" and "Layla." Surprisingly, Clapton finished the acoustic segment of the evening with "Change the World" - a song he co-wrote with Babyface for the film Phenomenon. The acoustic numbers truly showed Clapton's mastery of the guitar in both acoustic variations: nylon and steel. The string orchestra added greatly to this acoustic set, filling out the sound nicely and providing more dynamic variation than usual in acoustic pop music settings.

Clapton then went back to the electric guitar and wailed out bluesy tunes from his past, as well as some classics. "Old Love," from the album Journeyman, was beautifully integrated with the string orchestration, while "Crossroads" and "Have you Ever Loved a Woman" let Clapton's blues guitar solos shine better than anything he's captured in recordings. The lyrical, sincere, and sensible solos kept fans old and new riveted - especially when they could follow his hands on the projection screens as he played on.

Switching out of blues mode into Reggae mode, Clapton played his famous cover of Bob Marley's "I Shot the Sheriff" with a jaw-dropping solo from Kenneth Crouch on the Hammond B3 Organ. The solo was a perfect example of the incredible talent being demonstrated on the stage. This upbeat, jammin' song was promptly followed by "Wonderful Tonight," which featured a vocal solo by Katie Kissoon much like the one on the 24 Nights live recordings from Albert Hall in England. This was yet another example of the ability of these musicians to exceed the expectations of even the most die-hard Clapton fans.

Clapton really turned up the heat with the song "Tearin' us Apart," which had the orchestra rockin', the band jammin', and Eric wailin' on top of it all - the audience was left in awe. This only lead up to the equally-impressive "Cocaine," which closed out the planned set for the evening with a bang. After an exciting set like this, of course, the audience wanted more. After two minutes of deafening cheering, the band returned to the stage to dig deep back into Eric's past and blast away an extended version of "Sunshine of Your Love." This was the only encore, but it was more than enough to satisfy the awed audience. Clapton thanked the audience, recognized the orchestra and concertmaster, and took a bow with the rest of the band at the front of the stage.

Clapton blended his newest compositions with standard blues and his older compositions in a fantastic way, showing the band's versatility and Eric's innate talent with the guitar. There was so much communication between Eric, the band, and the concertmaster, that Clapton had complete control over how every piece would flow, who would take solos, and how one piece would end or lead into the next. It is always great to see the true masters of music performing on tour, especially when they seem to enjoy it as much as the audience.

I personally find myself looking at Eric Clapton with great respect as not only one of the greatest rock and blues musicians of all time, but also as a man who has overcome seemingly insurmountable obstacles, such as addiction. At the age of 52, he can still rock on, wail the blues, and please the masses like no one else. The man can truly perform in every musical sense of the word; and although the tickets for his concerts are pricey, they are worth every cent because his albums simply can't capture the energy and mastery of his live performances.