Eric Clapton Brings the Blues to Madison Square Garden

I don’t remember when I became an Eric Clapton fan.   Funny thing is I don’t ever remember not being an Eric Clapton fan.   You see, Clapton’s early career went hand in hand with my early educational career.   So it’s probably odd that a boy going through his early years of elementary school and junior high would even know much of Clapton or his music.   But, while he was earning his reputation as one of the greatest guitar players in rock and roll, I was on my own musical journey.   My Dad was a guitar player and my very earliest memories are of him teaching me how to play three simple chords and doing my best to strum and sing along with him.   As a wannabe guitarist, I was drawn to the music of those that were known for being great guitarists.   Eric Clapton surely fit that definition… and that is how a grade school kid becomes an Eric Clapton fan.

When I heard that Clapton was playing a handful of shows in the US this year and also heard rumors of this being a ‘final tour’, I was going to make every effort to be there.   With a pre-sale code in my possession, within mere seconds of tickets being on sale, I had secured two seats for his first show of the tour at Madison Square Garden for March 19th.

Today is the morning of the 20th, only seven hours after Clapton’s final song, and as I ride the Amtrak along the Hudson, I’ve been trying to capture all of the emotions of last night’s show.  Finding the words to write a fitting review seems inadequate.   So I have decided to scrap the review idea, and just say Thank You.

Eric Clapton’s music has played a bigger part of my life than I think I even knew.  Last night’s concert was a fitting reminder of that very fact.   From the opening notes of “Key to the Highway”, I knew I was in for a night of musical bliss.   Like a reunion with an old friend, when Clapton started singing, everything was refreshingly familiar.   The band was great, the sound was perfect, the harmonies tight, and every note of every lead brought back memory after memory.

Though I had always enjoyed Clapton’s music, I did not really start buying his albums until my college years.  The Journeyman album was probably the one I remember the most.   No longer living in the home town where I grew up, I’d only see my parents when I went back for a visit.   Often these visits gave me and my Dad an excuse to get out the guitars and do some picking.   Needless to say, my Dad’s and my musical tastes had rarely crossed paths.   I remember the first time I played “Running on Faith” for my Dad…. Suddenly paths had crossed, and my Dad too had an appreciation for Eric Clapton.   From that moment on, trips home would include playing from the Clapton songbook.

I had seen Clapton play in the early 2000’s, so I knew that when the chair came out it was time for some acoustic playing.   The mid concert acoustic Setlist included “Driftin’ Blues”, “Nobody Knows You When You’re Down and Out”, “Tears in Heaven”, and “Layla”.   This whole acoustic set brought a big smile to my face.  A couple years into my Dad’s tenure as a Clapton fan, we both had seen the Clapton Unplugged concert on TV.   At this point, my Dad was hooked.  So much so, that some time later he actually bought the Martin 000-28EC (Eric Clapton edition) acoustic guitar.    I couldn’t help but to think how much my Dad would have enjoyed this part of the show.   As Clapton broke into “Tears in Heaven”, the entire crowd was reminded again of the versatility of this phenomenal musician.

One of the great things about Eric Clapton has been his ability to evolve his musical career and musical style over the years.   Often when you go to see a musician that has been in this game this long, you hear their greatest hits that first made them famous, and not much more.    Clapton’s been releasing music all along his career, pulling in new recruits to his fan club along the way.   As he began one of his intros on the acoustic guitar, my son leaned over and said, “He’s playing Layla”.   Oh, did I forget to mention that my 22 year old son is a Clapton fan too?   The same music that gave me opportunities to make memories with my Dad is doing it again with the next generation.

Clapton returned once again to his trusty Strat and delivered a tasty performance of “Wonderful Tonight”.  The energy ramped up for rock hits “Cocaine” and “Sunshine of Your Love”.   The audience was on their feet.

The show had been opened by a set by Jimmie Vaughan, followed by an outstanding performance by Gary Clark Jr.   Clapton brought Vaughan and Clark back on stage to join him on “Before You Accuse Me” for his final encore song.  The three traded guitar licks along with some tasty bits on the piano and organ.   It was a great way to close the show.

As I wrote earlier, this was not intended to be a concert review.   I could certainly post a glowing review of the night, the perfect mix of hits, his outstanding band and backing vocalists, and his seemingly effortless performance.   But this concert was so much more.   So I just want to say Thank You to Eric Clapton.   Thank you for over five decades of great music.   Thank you for providing inspiration to a young musician.   Thank you for providing a common bond to three generations of my family.   Thank you for the ballads, the rock classics, and the heartfelt blues.

…and Thank You for doing ‘one more final tour’.

Check out a couple videos of his performance…

“Driftin’ Blues” from the acoustic set

“Before You Accuse Me” with Jimmie Vaughan and Gary Clark Jr.