Saturday Night: Eric Clapton at Toyota Center
As the house lights went up on the near-capacity crowd at the Toyota Center, there was an audible collective gasp. Thousands of concertgoers looked at each other with wide, stunned eyes. Could this be possible? Was it a cruel joke?
Would it take another round of screams, stomps, and cell-phone-light screen-wavings to bring him back out to rip into that famous seven-note opening and cause classic rock creaming in the collective jeans of all around???
Surely, when Eric Clapton didn't play the slower-tempoed, MTV Unplugged version in the show's middle acoustic set, it was just setting the stage for the final song of the night. But no, after an encore that included a bombastic version of Cream's "Sunshine of Your Love," and a spirited, raucous cover of Joe Cocker's "High Time We Went," the headliner and his crew took the sentiment of that latter tune and calmly walked offstage.
It was true. A Clapton concert. With no "Layla."
But you know what? That was fine. For whatever reason he chose not to include his most famous song in the set list this night (and I'm a firm believer in a musician's right not to be a greatest-hits jukebox... being a Neil Young fan has conditioned me to that), Eric Clapton and a sickly talented eight-piece backing band delivered a solid two-hour show with perhaps the best sound I've ever heard in the converted basketball arena, touching on most aspects of a musical career celebrating 50 years in 2013.
Ambling onstage to no fanfare, a relaxed-looking, jeans-wearing Clapton gently launched into deep cut "Hello Old Friend" and "My Father's Eyes" before strapping on an electric for Derek and the Dominos' strident "Tell the Truth" and later, that same group's "Got to Get Better In a Little While." Both were show highlights. But it was "I Shot the Sheriff" that really engaged the audience, featuring a great extended Clapton solo.
His backing band included many longtime collaborators and stars on their own right: Doyle Bramhall II (guitar), Steve Jordan (drums), Willie Weeks (bass), Chris Stainton (piano/keyboards), Greg Leisz (pedal steel), Paul Carrack (organ, keyboards) and backup singers Michelle John and Sharon While.
In terms of audience interaction, Clapton limited it to frequent "Thank YOU's!" after almost every number. But the crowd got something of a nice surprise with Carrack, who got to sing two of his own big hits, "Tempted" (from Squeeze) and "How Long" (from Ace), eventually coming to the realization that this was the same guy from those records. Jordan and Weeks made for an unbelievably tight and powerful rhythm section, and Bramhall added some six-string flash and gritty vocals.