Eric Clapton returned to the stage of Madison Square Garden for two nights in early May and by all indications, perhaps for the last time. He himself has written in the tour program “I swear this is it…no more, three score and ten and I didn’t really expect to make it past thirty. I know I’ve been threatening retirement for the last fifty years, but I didn’t think I’d ever really want to stop…” For those who were able to snag ducats to these sold-out shows (despite the exorbitant prices), they weren’t disappointed and were treated to a tight two–hour set with many surprise guests.
The set list was similar to those Clapton has performed for his audiences during previous tours, representing periods throughout his illustrious career. The fabulous bassist Nathan East, back in the band after an extended absence, brought back his vocal version of Blind Faith’s “Can’t Find My Way Home” starting with a wonderful bass solo. “I Shot the Sheriff” now sounds closer to Bob Marley’s original version than Clapton’s own 1974 hit, thanks to the backing vocals of his fabulous singers Michelle John and Shar White. There was enough blues material to satisfy any blues aficionado. “Key to the Highway,” “Hoochie Coochie Man,” “Driftin’,” and “Little Queen of Spades” were just some of them. Each showcased EC’s perfect melodic guitar solos, complimented by keyboard solos from Chris Stainton and Paul Carrack, all perfectly timed to the steady beat of legendary drummer Steve Gadd.
Early in the evening, Clapton welcomed the first of a round of guest guitarists, his friend John Mayer for the song “Pretending.” Mayer gave it his best shot on lead guitar followed by Clapton’solo with his classic wah-wah sound. Jimmie Vaughan played with EC on Bo Diddley’s “Before You Accuse Me.” Derek Trucks and Doyle Bramhall III, both members of Clapton’s touring band in 2006, returned for a multiple-guitar–driven “Let It Rain,” exchanging solos throughout, bringing back that Delaney Bramlett -produced England–meets–the–Southern U.S.A. sound from his early 1970’s output.
Encoring with a cover of Joe Cocker’s “High Time We Went,” all the evening’s players appeared on stage together, enjoying each other’s solos as did the audience, standing on its feet. It was reminiscent of Clapton’s Crossroads Guitar Festival which took place on the same stage two years previous. Let’s hope that, even though at 70 EC is hanging up his touring shoes, the Madison Square Garden crowd will be rewarded with one more Crossroads festival in the near future.