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British guitarist Eric Clapton performs in Hong Kong on February 18, 2011 (ED JONES/Ed Jones/AFP/Getty Images)
British guitarist Eric Clapton performs in Hong Kong on February 18, 2011 (ED JONES/Ed Jones/AFP/Getty Images)

Music: Concert review

Clapton show lacks passion - not that he needs new converts Add to ...

Eric Clapton At Rogers Arena in Vancouver on Friday

What is there left to say about Eric Clapton? We all know he can play guitar. That while some call him "Slowhand", plenty of fans just make do with "God".

After a career spanning almost five decades and dozens of albums, both solo and with his time with The Yardbirds, Cream, John Mayall, Jimmy Page, Derek and the Dominoes and more, Clapton hardly needs new converts to easily sell out his North American tour (which kicked off in Vancouver, Friday).

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And it will surprise no one to learn that his stage set up on Friday was relatively unshowy, and that his band were excellent and together they played a set that was tight as a drum.

They played for almost two hours, covering some 17 tracks, mostly from the back catalogue - a generous ploy that was bound to make fans feel they were getting their money's worth.

But for all that the show suffered from a lack of exactly the qualities that I've always missed in Clapton's music: passion and personality. Yes, he is a wizard on the frets, but his version of the blues is devoid of soul.

Oh, and he really can't sing. He does that nasty gritty thing with his throat when he knows he needs some punch, and the rest of the time, his voice is reedy and thin.

But what did he play? The best tunes book-ended the show, with Key to the Highway - the blues standard he's been covering since Dominoes days - opening, and a foot-stomping version of Robert Johnson's Little Queen of Spades, just before the close. (On the latter, phenomenal keyboard solos from Chris Stainton and Tim Carmon stole the show.

There were abundant opportunities - as is only right and proper - for Clapton to demonstrate his superior skill on his Stratocaster, with large screens showing close ups of his fingerwork for those interested in the technicalities. (Surveying the audience at these moments was more fun though, with much covert air guitar being played around the stadium.)

A pared down, near-acoustic section for which the Brit superstar pulled up a chair, bordered on the flat, despite the quality of the raw material: Jimmy Cox's Nobody Knows You When You're Down and Out; Harry Woods and Fats Waller's When Somebody Thinks You're Wonderful. You couldn't help but feel you'd heard them done better by others - and that goes double for the upbeat, poppy version of I Shot the Sherriff.

The real low points were the ballads. At his worst, Clapton's only one step shy of Chris De Burgh and it was hard to survive Old Love and Wonderful Tonight (both penned by himself, the former alongside Robert Cray) without sniggering.

Still, he gets props for turning his own classic track Layla around into a slow-paced, understated ditty - even if it would surely never have been a hit in this form. The anti-climax rippled through the crowd, who had jumped to their feet at the familiar opening chords, only to be given nothing with which to expend their pent up excitement. The relief came later with a tub-thumping rendition of JJ Cale's Cocaine.











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