Eric Clapton joined the Yardbirds exactly 50 years ago as a young Brit who lit a fire under our stateside blues and shot it back at us.
When he proved over the next few decades that he was just as adept with a ballad or a reggae tune, he locked his fans in for life.
On Saturday, they packed into Consol Energy Center for the full immersion of his talents. We got some Cream, some Derek and the Dominos, the songs your wife likes, one "Old Sock" and a scorching tribute to his muse. We also got an unassuming bandleader more than willing to share the spotlight.
In addition to all that, these words are never bad to hear: "This is the last night of the tour we've been on, and it's nice to be here to do it."
He hit the stage, not with the Strat but with his Martin acoustic for a gentle opening of "Hello, Old Friend" that sounded sweet and early '70s folk-rocky, and then a slow, island version of '90s rarity "My Father's Eyes." His voice sounded nice and weathered like the old shoe that the old sock goes into.
If it had gone on like that we would have been bored to death soon enough, but for the third song, he strapped on the Strat and they surged into "Tell the Truth," with left-handed Doyle Bramhall II taking that snarling Duane Allman part on slide, and then Eric finally throwing his head back and ripping through one of the sharpest, cleanest, most fluid solos you'll ever hear.
At that point, I was ready to just hear the whole "Layla" album and maybe a few Cream songs and call it a night. That would have been too much perfection.
The Bramhall-written "Gotta Get Over," one of the few songs played from the new "Old Sock," wasn't a bad substitute at all, featuring another killer solo, this time with Mr. Clapton attacking high on the neck. From there they took it to the roadhouse for a churning cover of Albert Collins' "Black Cat Bone," highlighting the lap steel work of Greg Liesz, and then Mr. Clapton introduced us to his wah-wah pedal for the funked-up soul of "Got to Get Better in a Little While," complete with a solo that was flat-out jagged and nasty.
Backup singers Sharon White and Michelle John put it gloriously over the top. And we can't go any further without mentioning drummer Steve Jordan, bassist Willie Weeks and organist Chris Stainton who locked down all these grooves hard.
Paul Carrack, who doubles as keyboardist and journeyman singer, thrust us abruptly into a different concert with "Tempted" (from his stint in Squeeze) and "How Long" (from his Ace days). Both were sung to sweet perfection.
After giving Cream's "Badge" epic, wide-screen treatment, Mr. Clapton sat down for some fine acoustic picking on "Driftin' Blues;" a groovy little "Lay Down Sally;" the mournful, yet career-reviving "Tears in Heaven" and, sadly enough, the dreaded acoustic version of "Layla," indicating that there would be no electric one. No one ever said he had the best taste in his own work. The acoustic set came to a plodding climax with "Wonderful Tonight," which I realize people love.
Late in the set, things got hot. They cranked the volume up as Mr. Clapton handed the songwriting duties over to Mr. Johnson (Robert) for the Delta blues of "Stones in my Passway," with his own slide work, "Love in Vain" (from the Stones' Johnson songbook), a "Crossroads" that had the old devilish fire and, even better than that, a smoldering "Little Queen of Spades" that launched a flurry of shredding solos from Stainton, Doyle and then Clapton, displaying the heights to which these guys push each other.
After that, the set-closing "Cocaine" was like an afterthought. First encore "Sunshine of Your Love" was everything we could have hoped for, with Jordan pounding almost as wildly as Ginger Baker, shared Clapton-Doyle vocals and pure instrumental sorcery. They took it on home with Carrack taking the lead on a show-stopping "High Time We Went."
For whatever reason, this was an Eric Clapton we didn't see here in his last concert here in February 2010 -- on top of his game, playing like the man who once had people confusing him with God.
Bob Dylan doesn't hit these parts until next weekend (Cal U), but it sure looked and sounded like him when The Wallflowers came on with the new song "The Devil's Waltz." Jakob was the spitting image of his old man, and though he resisted the comparisons early on, he seemed to embrace the classic phrasing at times.
The reunited band was a suitable opener, with touches of his dad, George Harrison, The Band, Dire Straits and Springsteen in a mostly "greatest hits" set, featuring "Three Marlenas," "One Headlight," "The Difference," an extended "6th Avenue Heartache" and the new "Love is a Country."
For the last song, he introduced a special guest, Mr. Clapton himself, for a cover of "The Weight" that had him taking his first solo of the night.
Scott Mervis: email@example.com or 412-263-2576. First Published April 7, 2013 3:45 AM