The Clapton Blues
Member of Parliament and blues aficionado Milind Deora recalls watching Clapton live in London
For a regular reader of my column, I don’t have to blatantly profess my love for Eric Clapton. So often do I reference the prolific songwriter/guitarist in my columns that he unwittingly assumes the role of an archetype within music for me. Having followed and still following Clapton’s career religiously, this pursuit has acquired the nature of a one-sided commitment wherein a few compromises are made from my end. I have been critical from my humble standing as a listener and audience member since college when I first saw Clapton perform live. After having caught him on tour just last year (what was rumoured to be his last), catching him perform live at London last month might be perceived as a bit of an indulgence to some but for me it goes deeper than that. It’s my keen appreciation of an artist whom I believe to be one of the most relevant figures in music today, who will unequivocally go down in its history as legend.
A day before I headed for the concert, I visited my friend Jamie Wood. Jamie went on a delightful nostalgia trip studded with notorious incidents involving his dad Ron Wood and the labelled crazy, Keith Richards. The next day at the Royal Albert Hall, the Arc Angels, Doyle Bramhall II’s band was to open for Clapton. Though I have watched Bramhall play with Clapton before, I had never witnessed the Arc Angels in concert. I have heard them on record and watched concert DVDs, but the experience watching them live left an indelible first impression. The half-hour set with the proficient line up of Bramhall, frontman Charlie Sexton, and drummer Chris Layton (drummer of Double Trouble) had me enraptured with its tightly-knit spin on incredible originals.
Next, Clapton took to stage for his two-hour set. I must admit, I had walked in that day keeping many expectations from the musician, and that could have been one of the reasons why I walked out a discontented fan. He doled out more of his commercially viable and popular numbers like ‘Wonderful Tonight’ and ‘Cocaine.’ Then a snatch of the blues with tracks like ‘Little Queen of Spades’ followed by an acoustic set wherein he played an old country song of his, ‘Three Little Birds.’ It was a fine mix one might say, but that set simply averaged out for me. Perhaps that’s just my personal bias speaking, as I would have preferred him to play more of the blues and emphasise on his days with Cream, and Derek and the Dominos. This vaguely followed through from my last experience at his concert, even then he seemed to be fading out, and this time he cast a very dry spell. There were several points in the show where I caught myself yawning, and it bothered me. A man of his calibre and repute is not one to be berated in any circumstance, but as a fan I can’t help but look for reasons as my hero loses out to my weighty expectations. Seeing Clapton live is still an enthralling experience, but it is slowly discounting itself with time as he is ageing. I think a sense of inertia is taking over him and his will to do this anymore is waning. After all the immense respect and adulation he has earned, he needn’t be as bothered with pleasing fans at this point in his career. Though I have to mention, Clapton’s keyboard player – a Billy Preston reincarnate, the black musician wielded his organ like a miracle worker – was the real class act for me that night besides the Arc Angels. So all in all, I did take something back from this experience and perhaps also grew a bit in my understanding of my idol and his shortcomings today. Or perhaps I should put it this way: He has been living up to his side of the commitment long enough, it’s time I relented as a fan.