Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Eric Clapton & Steve Winwood, Oracle Arena, Oakland, 6/29/09

June 29 came up all too fast. Any faster and I would have forgotten that I had a ticket to see Eric Clapton and Steve Winwood at Oakland’s Oracle Arena that night. Fast as it came though, the show itself lasted a good long while – close to three hours by my rough estimate.

I never had much of a huge interest in seeing a live Clapton show. I’ve always felt that there was very little about his music since his Derek & the Dominoes days that truly excited me. There were some good spots in his solo career since then – 461 Ocean Boulevard certainly has its moments (“Mainline Florida” and “Let it Grow” especially), Backless is a once-in-a-while guilty pleasure for the 8-track deck, and the laid back Reptile had just enough variety for me to make it my favorite solo Clapton record of the ones I’ve heard to date (and those sweet backing vocals from the Impressions certainly didn’t hurt). But overall, his career excited me far less than that of, say, Jeff Beck.

But the prospect of seeing Clapton with Steve Winwood, now that had me sold. Clapton seems to be most inspired when working alongside a peer (i.e. Duane Allman in the Dominoes, or as reports from Japan earlier this year confirmed, with fellow Yardbirds alumnus Jeff Beck). Teaming with Winwood worked well enough in Blind Faith in '69, so I couldn't imagine it not working in 2009. I was pretty much right.

Basically, I got everything I was expecting: a hearty dose of Blind Faith tunes (all of side one of their lone album, in fact), some Traffic tunes, the bluesier side of Clapton, and – best of all – a Clapton who was ripping solo after inspired solo all night. He was alternately slow and deliberate, a fleet-fingered show-off, a precise picker, and an infectious riff master. And Winwood was easily the evening's superior vocalist and Clapton's equal on keyboard, occasionally even sparring with Clapton on guitar when he wasn’t perched at either his organ or his piano.

Highlights: Forgot how cool that riff in “Had to Cry Today” is; “After Midnight” was slowed down to a more leisurely pace, though not quite as slow as the ‘87 Michelob version; Clapton and Winwood trading verses on “Presence of the Lord” and “Forever Man”; Winwood’s breathtaking solo rendition of “The Low Spark of High Heeled Boys”; “Split Decision” emerged as a long-forgotten, lost gem from Winwood’s commercial peak in the ‘80s; and the spirited dual guitar jam at the conclusion of “Dear Mr. Fantasy” ended the show on a natural high… though as you can imagine, joints were being passed around.

[RANT: I wish the screaming lady next to me would have taken a toke of the joint being passed around in front of me, because she was just WAY too hyper. She was shrieking non-stop throughout the show, and ridiculously so. I mean, you know you’re drunk when you start complaining that Eric Clapton isn’t singing enough hits or saying anything about Michael Jackson. I think she nearly climaxed when he encored with “Cocaine.” And then she had the nerve to ask me what country I was from! Apparently, if I had answered something other than the United States, she would have wanted to sleep with me, but I like my landlord too much to bring home a woman who could drown out a fire alarm.]

Two more points worth mentioning: it wouldn’t be a Clapton show without some straight up blues, and there was plenty of that to go around. Those tunes (“Low Down,” “Sleeping in the Ground,” etc.) didn’t stick with me as well as the others, but they sure sounded great at the time. The best of these without a doubt, though, was Hendrix’s “Voodoo Chile.” No, not the more well-known “Voodoo Child (Slight Return)” that closes side 4 of Electric Ladyland, but the twice-as-long blues jam that closes side one of the original double LP. Winwood sang this one, but it was Clapton who intro’d the tune, singing along with the opening guitar melody: “I’m a voodoo chile / Lord knows I’m a voodoo chile.” It was at this very intro that it hit me: Winwood played organ on the original recording! Suffice to say, these guys did Hendrix proud.

Clapton couldn’t be bothered to say more than “hello!” and “thank you!” all night, but Winwood at least talked a bit to the audience before “Low Spark.” And still, the band wasn’t introduced, and since I didn’t do my research before the show, it didn’t quite register why the way the drummer was hitting his skins looked so familiar to me. It was because the guy was Abe Laboriel, Jr. – Paul McCartney’s drummer since 2001 (I've seen Paul eight times since 2002). Might be time for some glasses.

Thanks to, we have not only a list of the band members, but also an audience-shot video of “Cocaine” from the show (posted by YouTube user taste4phree).

The band:
Steve Winwood (vocals, piano, organ, electric guitar)
Eric Clapton (electric and acoustic guitar, vocals)
Chris Stainton (Keyboards)
Willie Weeks (Bass)
Abe Laboriel Jr. (Drums)
Michelle John & Sharon White (Backing vocals)

The set list:
Had to Cry Today
Low Down
After Midnight
Presence of the Lord
Sleeping in the Ground
Well Alright
Too Bad
Pearly Queen
There’s a River
Forever Man
The Low Spark of High Heeled Boys
How Long
Can’t Find My Way Home
Split Decision
Voodoo Chile

Dear Mr. Fantasy


Mojo said...

split decision was always a winwood fave of mine...and he is in the conversation as a top-10 all time rock organ playa in my book

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