How is it that I’m about to look back on a gig from one of rock music’s absolute guitar gods with less than fond memories? I honestly wish it weren’t the case. But suffice to say that 10 years ago Eric Clapton joined my short list of artists I wouldn’t pay to see again, here’s why.
I’m an Irishman. I’m a proud Irishman. I’ve been brought up hearing stories about how deeply set our music culture is, how we give foreign artists the show of their lives when they come here. Said artists have agreed that playing in Ireland is something special and so The Point, being the venue of so many of my first gigs, became this little nest of Irishness for me. Regardless of how good the gig was, when I went to see Neil Young, David Bowie, Meat Loaf and hell even Iron Maiden, the occasion and the surroundings were epitomising that Irish crowd phenomenon I’d heard so much about. The place was a cavern, my cavern. So when Eric Clapton arrived like a jukebox and did little more than play the songs, thank the crowd then leave I felt a little peeved
Now two things need clarification: one I went home musically satisfied and two the support were incredible. Robert Randolph and the Family Band were not on my music radar before or indeed after this gig, but man they showed how to do a support slot just right. To this day the remain the only support act who’s performance has immediately prompted me to rush out and buy their album. Their finale, an instrumental version of “Voodoo Chile” saw them instigate an instrument swap rotation, every band member moved over to the instrument on their left u til they returned back to their own, and that alone was worth the admission. Then came old Slowhand himself.
I love Eric Clapton’s music. Not in the obsessive way I would Springsteen’s or Tom Waits but as a guitarist, how could I not be enthralled by the mesmerising licks of “Layla” and “Sunshine Of Your Love”. I was psyched for this. And sure enough we got two solid hours of great tunes, including a mid section dedicated to the Robert Johnson cover albums he had out that year. I mean, it was incredible. But there was a disconnect between Clapton and the audience. Yes the old “My grandmother’s grandmother is Irish” shtick is tired and all that, but from start to finish we got “Thank you” between each song and that’s that.
Thing is, Eric Clapton has lived enough live, through suffering and grief, for all of us. Fell in love with his best mate’s wife, fell in and out of numerous musical projects that fell through, battled with heroic addiction that turned into alcohol addiction once said vice was removed and of course he so tragically lost his son in 1991. I’m not here to berate the guy but personally I wouldn’t be too keen to see him again. Would my opinion differ if it were an artist with less personal strife to excuse him? Of course it would. I hear constant reports of Van Morrison live and how if he isn’t feeling it he can perform with his back to the audience for the duration. But for me it just boiled down to the live show being much like listening to a greatest hits album being played in my sitting room with the smell of certain substances in the background and some crowd noise.
I have talked ad nauseum both here and to friends about how important the atmosphere at a gig is to me. As recently as this year I have seen artists play a gig that could be anywhere at any time, no environment generated, no spectacle to it (I’m looking at you Bastille). It just ruins it for me. God forgive me for soapbox ranting but we pay good money for this, we want more than a jukebox. None of this should detract from the sheer brilliant talent that is Eric Clapton and I don’t intend or expect it to, but for me it’s just not a headline that will ever get my interest up again. There will be those who disagree, that’s what I’m here for, but unfortunately for me it’s a thumbs down to Clapton live.
Next week’s Live In Concert – Bruce Springsteen, RDS, 2008