Eric Clapton - United Center
Chicago, Ill. - July 17, 2004 - CD-R2 - Aud 4

Disc 1:

  1. Let it Rain
  2. Hoochie Coochie Man
  3. Walk Out in the Rain
  4. I Want a Little Girl
  5. I Shot the Sheriff
  6. Me and the Devil Blues
  7. They're Red Hot
  8. Milkcow Blues
  9. If I Posession Over Judgment Day
  10. Kindhearted Woman
  11. Got to Get Better in a Little While
  12. Have You Ever Loved a Woman

Disc 2:

  1. Badge
  2. Wonderful Tonight
  3. Layla
  4. Cocaine
  5. Sunshine of Your Love (with Robert Randolph)
  6. Got My Mojo Working (with Robert Randolph)

Comments: Recorded using a set of Sound Professional's Premium Binaurals into a Sony MZ-R30... main floor center, about 7 rows in front of the mixing deck... transferred to computer via Hercules Fortissimo II soundcard and SoundForge software. Disc times for this version are 73:53/38:56.



Clapton has lost a bit of his daredevil edge, but still plays with fire

By Kevin McKeough
Special to the Tribune

July 20, 2004

In 1968, while he was with the band Cream, Eric Clapton recorded a concert rendition of Robert Johnson's "Crossroads Blues," and both the blues and rock music have yet to recover from it. Clapton's supercharged guitar and scorched earth solo (and Jack Bruce and Ginger Baker's stampeding groove) helped establish frenzied bombast as a pinnacle of creative expression, and all too many guitarists since then have emulated his example.

But when Clapton performed a handful of Robert Johnson tunes from his new tribute CD, "Me and Mr. Johnson," midway through his show at the United Center on Saturday night, he and his band sat during them, beginning with jaunty acoustic renditions that set their legs shuffling back and forth.

Even after switching to electric guitar s for versions of "Milkcow's Calf Blues" and "If I Had Possession Over Judgement Day" that had as much fiery intensity as Cream once did, Clapton traded raw abandon for deliberate finesse. He shouted Johnson's double-entendres and threats with careful timing while playing corrosive rhythm guitar riffs, Doyle Bramhall II punctuated Clapton's singing with searing slide guitar licks, and drummer Steve Gadd stomped on the beat as if he were trying to put out the fire.

The difference between how Clapton played the Delta bluesman's music as a young man and how he plays it now as a slightly grizzled 59-year-old typifies the path his music has taken. Truth be told, he lost the daredevil edge that made him a legend three decades ago, replacing it with the steadier and considerably more laidback style that marks his solo career.

At its worst, that approach has produced a glut of mellow pablum, represented in his concert by the sleep-inducing ballad "Wonderful Tonight." F ortunately, in recent years Clapton also has imbued his songs with a deeper musicality, a skillful sense of nuance.

The hockey arena acoustics worked against this aspect, making Nathan East's bass lines inaudible and backing singers Sharon White and Michelle John superfluous. Still, subtle flourishes peeked through, including the way the band swung easily over Billy Preston's barrelhouse piano on "I Want a Little Girl," and the orchestral coda to "Badge," when Chris Stainton's lovely piano cascaded down on the guitarists' drone.

That refinement extended to Clapton's frequent solos, which showed the fire still burning inside the guitarist as they moved quickly through swift variations on four-note figures punctuated with long sustains. Yet just when they reached a fever pitch and seemed on the verge of breaking into something revelatory, he brought them to an end.

He briefly crossed over to the lowdown side of the blues with his guttural riffs during a ha rd-slamming rendition of "Cocaine," but only during "I Shot the Sheriff" did he let himself stretch out at length, building to slashing lines that found even Clapton himself gaping in amazement. In that moment, Clapton reconciled his passion with his precision, and he seemed to be most delighted by it of all.

Copyright 2004, Chicago Tribune


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Polished Clapton sticks too close to the script

July 19, 2004

BY JEFF JOHNSON Staff Reporter

Lincoln had his Douglas, Ali his Frazier, Nicklaus his Palmer ... but who is Eric Clapton's foil?

At 59, the British guitar god clearly is not interested in surrounding himself with musicians who could push him to greater artistic heights. He's a brilliant bandleader, no doubt, but he needs some external challenge to produce his finest work. And there were no Jack Bruces, John Mayalls, Duane Allmans or Steve Winwoods onstage with him Saturday night at the United Center.

Touring behind "Me and Mr. Johnson," his reverent exploration of the Robert Johnson songbook, Clapton played a tightly scripted greatest-hits show that relegated the Delta blues great's material to a five-tune segment in mid-set. No doubt more than a few among the sold-out audience would have gone home grumbling -- and not come back next tour -- had Clapton skipped "Layla," "Wonderful Tonight," "Badge," "Cocaine" or his other signature tunes in favor of a full evening of Johnson's music. But commercial considerations aside, it might be asking too much of Clapton to spend every night conjuring the spirit of the tortured 1930s bluesman who sang of hellhounds on his trail.




So think of "Me and Mr. Johnson," then, as a quick artistic refresher rather than a total spiritual immersion. Clapton is a man who has stood close to the fire before, with nearly tragic consequences. He's content now, so it seems, and probably doesn't want to upset some delicate balance.

It's a shame, though, that Clapton has no use for bandmates who could stoke his artistic fires. Gone for one is stylish jazz-rock guitarist Andy Fairweather Low, replaced by Texas axman Doyle Bramhall II, who's still a work in progress. Long gone too is Jerry Portnoy, whose harmonica solos could have put the Johnson material over the top.

Still around, miraculously, is Billy Preston, who rejoined the tour a couple of weeks ago after battling serious health problems. Preston's Hammond B-3 work drew an enthusiastic response, although he's hardly robust enough to stand toe-to-toe with Old Slowhand.

The rest of the band, pianist Chris Stainton, drummer Steve Gadd and bassist Nathan East, plus backing singers Sharon White and Michelle John, may be the cream of the crop, but collectively they're no Cream.

Not that there wasn't much to like about the show. Start with "I Shot the Sheriff," a true guilty pleasure for those who crave the sound of E. C.'s guitar. Clapton's new rocked-up arrangement and go-for-broke solo work breathed new life into the Bob Marley song. "They're Red Hot" ("Hot Tamales") was a rollicking acoustic number played not as a novelty but with the urgency that a young Johnson might have given it to get passersby to stop and feed the kitty.

Clapton's utter professionalism was a marvel, although sometimes an annoyance as well. His 110-minute set, which is identical at each tour stop, is so carefully orchestrated that the breaks between songs are shorter than on an album. Set changes and replacement guitars appear as if by magic. The breakneck pacing doesn't provide time to hit the refreshment stand, but it might have pleased Mr. Johnson, supposedly a stickler for precision himself.

For those who like more raw energy in their performers, Robert Randolph and the Family Band served up a thunderous 35-minute opening set. Randolph, who draws psychedelic-era sounds out of his lap-steel guitar, conjured a muse of his own with an instrumental version of Jimi Hendrix's "Voodoo Chile (Slight Return)." A demonstrative showman, Randolph kicked over his stool to punctuate one tune and engaged in a game of musical chairs in which bandmates handed off their instruments during another song.

Randolph was the cherry atop the sundae for Clapton's two encores: "Sunshine of Your Love" and "I Got My Mojo Working." Maybe if Clapton invited him aboard full time ... no, that might start those hellhounds yelping again.

Copyright The Sun-Times Company