Eric Clapton – One Night In Bangkok – Impact Arena, Bangkok (Muang Thontani)- Wednesday February 16 2011

“Crossroads” is replaced by “Cocaine”

01. Key To The Highway
02. Going Down Slow
03. Hoochie Coochie Man
04. Old Love
05. I Shot The Sheriff
06. Driftin’
07. Nobody Knows You When You’re Down And Out
08. River Runs Deep
09. Rocking Chair
10. Same Old Blues
11. When Somebody Thinks You’re Wonderful
12. Layla – seated Gibson ES 335
13. Badge
14. Little Queen Of Spades
15. Before You Accuse Me
16. Wonderful Tonight
17. Cocaine
18. Further On Up The Road

The band
Guitar, Vocals – Eric Clapton
Bass Guitar – Willie Weeks
Keyboards – Chris Stainton
Drums – Steve Gadd
Backing Vocals – Sharon White
Backing Vocals – Michelle John
Keyboards – Tim Carmon

Photos: ThaiPick

Review Bangkok Post

The audience got what they’d expected to get. Wonderful Tonight, yes, and Cocaine. Sure, there was I Shot the Sheriff and Layla, then a mini-parade of electric blues, plus a semi-unplugged session. The encore was a one-song affair, rowdy but not that rowdy, despite the cheers and screams and claps and false hope of another reappearance projected by expatriate and well-heeled congregation (plus half of Thailand’s pub musicians and ’60s desperadoes).

Fun, yes. Memorable, hmm. Safe, of course. At least there was no confusion over 110V-vs-220V electricity, and no burnin’ and riotin’ of the night before after Deftones had bailed out. No sheriff was actually shot, and the bristly, 66-year-old Eric Clapton was the only authority doing the firing – with his Fenders.

Last Wednesday at Impact Arena, Clapton performed beautifully – and dutifully. He showed up to fulfill his responsibility as a living legend, not less, and not much more. We expected him to appear and make his guitar wail and weep, and he did that, robustly, fully aware of the social contract he’s had with fans around the globe since the days he prophesied his brand of guitar god-dom with the Yardbirds and Cream. We didn’t expect him to talk, so he hardly talked – or he didn’t talk at all – except the repeated shout of “Thank you!” (with the emphasis on the “kyu!”), and a “Hello!” at the start and “we’ll play you some blues” in the middle.

In an age of packaged world tours, top artists could be accused of parachuting into a tropical hinterland and delivering a canned performance, sometimes mechanically. Clapton – bless him, his soul still audible in his guitar, his melodic phrasing still exuberant, and his heart is still in this darn thing – did more than that, though not really much more.

He knew his audiences. The Bangkok gig (like many other gigs he’d done lately) was a set of blues-heavy numbers, apparently to connect with his fan base, who as long-haired teenagers of the 1970s grew up listening to Clapton’s early blues-rock work and who’ve now become middle-aged ladies and gentlemen with considerable purchasing power. Last week’s concert was packed, with the top-tier tickets costing 6,500 baht. Most Thai pub musicians, I conjecture, would stick with the 1,000 and 2,500-baht rungs.

Clapton, in a black shirt and with three-day’s worth of stubble and black-rimmed glasses, opened with Key to the Highway, Going Down Slow and Hoochie Coochie – three blues numbers that kick-started his glorious cadenza-fest. The man might look old, much older, naturally, I know, than the clean-faced guitar maverick in the 1968 premiere of Crossroads (available on YouTube), in which the history of Mississippi slave music made a blasting transformation into a statement of white counter-culture. The thing is, Clapton looked animated and half-possessed as soon as he worked the strings of his light-blue Fenders, and we were reminded of that famous rock lore when graffiti sprung up on London walls in the 1960s proclaiming, improbably, that “Clapton is god”.

There was a kind of relaxed virtuosity in his solo, and Clapton’s skill and understanding of the six-stringed instrument was at its most exciting when he turned a seemingly simple ballad Old Love into a sizzling sonic excursion. Yet from here, we thought we would be in the territory of vintage Clapton; we thought we would hear Sunshine of Your Love, Crossroads, or White Room (he did those in his last visit two years ago.) But right on cue, he switched to a semi-acoustic middle section with breezy old blues-jazz-soul mix of seven songs, culminating with a balmy rendition of Layla.

The Layla with the astonishing coda of piano solo remains, in my view, in the pantheon of classic rock, and it was too bad Clapton chose this version for us. This half-electric rendering has stolen its way into a standard pop consciousness after his Unplugged album in the 1990s, and I was afraid that, at the gig, he would go on to Tears in Heaven, the multiple Grammy winner though hardly a song that would rack up voltage in a packed concert. Luckily, he didn’t.

Act III was a 12-bar blues exhibition, loud, exhilarating, skilful, yet there’s something dry and hurried about it. Clapton launched the last sequence with Badge (a good sign), followed by Queen of Spades (I thought he’d do Have You Ever Loved a Woman?) and the rollicking Before You Accuse Me. Then came, ahh, Wonderful Tonight.

It’s a wonder that one of the greatest rock musicians of all time became world-famous mainly for this four-chord love song with the gentlest, most whimsical of lyrics. We must have heard this song a few hundred times before (by Thai pub bands alone!), and Clapton must have played it a thousand, at least. Can he make it new every time? Does he have to? I honestly can’t tell. To hear the song live from the man himself is special, definitely, though seriously I wasn’t sure if the tune had become a commodified pop-culture artefact that it lost some of its magic, the Pattie Boyd magic, the magic of a different musical sensibility and sonic order, the magic of the younger Clapton at the peak of his mastery.

Lastly, it was Cocaine, fired up quite deliriously, before we had a perfunctory encore with Further On Up the Road. And then, like what Clapton said to us. It’s us to him, sincerely: Thank you.

Review Bangkok Post