Eric Clapton lets the guitar do the talking as US tour kicks off

“Thanks!” Again and again on Monday night in Chicago, those were pretty much the only words legendary English guitarist Eric Clapton uttered between songs onstage at the United Center on the third night of his North American tour (his first stop in Chicago in 10 years).

Clapton has proven to be a controversial figure of late but opted to let his guitar do the talking on Monday night, sticking to hits while avoiding recent recordings with Northern Irish singer-songwriter Van Morrison or his latest single “Pompous Fool”.

In late 2020, in what would once have been dubbed a dream collaboration, the duo worked together on tracks like “Stand and Deliver,” one that compared quarantine lockdown to slavery (a song with a lyrical reference to “chains” to hammer home the misguided point).

A rant made by Clapton on stage in 1976 has resurfaced, one in which – alongside a variety of racial slurs – the guitarist is said to have made statements like “Keep Britain white”, featuring longtime fans of Rock and Roll Hall three times. of Famer with the question of how to separate the artist from the art (or if it is even worth trying).

Nonetheless, Clapton scoured the blues songbook Monday night on stage in Chicago, putting his spin on material from black American artists like Willie Dixon, Muddy Waters, Robert Johnson and Elmore James.

Backed by a seven-piece band, including longtime secret weapon Doyle Bramhall II on guitar and vocalist/keyboardist Paul Carrack (Ace, Squeeze, Mike + The Mechanics), Clapton slowly but methodically worked his way for about an hour and 40 minutes on stage in Chicago.

Performing to a sparse crowd on night one out of two – the upper parts of the stadium were completely curtained off and some fans were moved as close as the sixth row – Clapton and company debuted their version of “God Save the Queen”, observing the recent death of Queen Elizabeth II by dropping the previous opener “Pretending” from the set.

“Thanks!” Clapton told the Chicago crowd, the band’s take on Dixon’s “I’m Your Hoochie Coochie Man” an early highlight. Bramhall was a revelation on slide guitar on a solo debut, Clapton rose to the occasion and fought back.

As part of the live, “Slow Hand” still stabilizes the beat and Monday night was a slow burn before “I Shot the Sheriff” by the Wailers. Clapton’s backing vocals shone on the song, the bass oddly low in the mix of the reggae classic as Clapton stretched out for a solo.

Clapton and company kicked off an acoustic set with their version of Waters’ “Country Boy”. Bramhall switched to harmonica and double bass set the tone for the stripped-down performance.

Clapton went for an acoustic version of some of his biggest hits on Monday, highlighting JJ Cale’s “After Midnight” alongside “Layla” and a version of “Tears In Heaven” that riffed on “A Whiter Shade of Pale by Procol Harum. “After Midnight” in particular was a modified affair, keys up front as Bramhall fired on electric guitar while Clapton strummed.

Coming off the acoustic set, the band offered the only Cream song of the night, “Badge” standing out despite a late fumble.

“Thanks a lot!” said Clapton, showcasing some of his finest fretwork of the night on a slow, deliberate run through Johnson’s “Cross Road Blues,” Carrack shining on James’ “The Sky is Crying” as the band was heading for an encore with Cale’s “Cocaine”. ”

“How is everyone tonight?” asked Texan bluesman Jimmie Vaughan, in the first part of the evening.

Vaughan’s band was terrific, a seven piece band including a three piece brass section and a Hammond B3 organ.

Vaughan has dipped throughout his career, working alongside Stevie Ray as The Vaughan Brothers in addition to The Fabulous Thunderbirds.

“Let’s go baby!” shouted Vaughan, the horns fueling Luther Johnson’s “Roll Roll Roll,” as Vaughan provided lead vocals on the boogie soul number.

Organist Mike Flanigin took the Chicago crowd to church, horns soaring overhead during a slowed-down, thoughtful version of Clarence “Gatemouth” Brown’s “Dirty Work at the Crossroads.”

“We’re going to do a little thing that was written by Slide Hampton,” Vaughan said, creating “Frame For the Blues.” “This is for the ladies,” the guitarist said with a laugh, delivering a sing-song vocal as the organ kicked in to the instrumental jam.

“It’s the crawl!” Vaughan said. “Do you remember the crawl? Just yell “Crawl!” when he arrives at that time,” he explained. “It’s called the crawl and it happens like that! said Vaughan, capping off a hugely rewarding 40-minute set, playing his guitar behind his head on the Fabulous Thunderbirds’ cut.

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