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Casting Doubt on Eric Clapton's "Retirement" Tour

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Planes, Trains and Eric Directed by David Maxwell Eagle Rock Entertainment, 156 min., $14.98 DVD/$19.98 Blu-Ray

Guitar God Eric Clapton surprised some English fans earlier this year when he announced his likely retirement from regular touring.

"The road has become unbearable," he told Uncut magazine. "It's become unapproachable, because it takes so long to get anywhere. It's hostile -- everywhere: getting in and out of airports, traveling on planes and in cars."

Then again, he told Rolling Stone essentially the same thing. Last year.

"When I'm 70, I'll stop. I won't stop playing or doing one-offs, but I'll stop touring, I think." he mused for readers on this side of the Pond.

Then again, Clapton also has been talking about getting off the road -- really -- since 1965, when he left the Yardbirds.

Still, this DVD, which mixes interview footage of Clapton and his most recent band with 13 full-length concert songs from his 2014 tour of the Far and Middle East, does have something of a "farewell" ring about it.

REWIND: Saturday Night: Eric Clapton at Toyota Center (3/18/2013)

He certainly still has his performing chops. While never the most outgoing stage presence, there's still bite and fire to well-worn catalogue numbers like "Tell the Truth," "I Shot the Sheriff" (here with an even funkier, more reggae beat), "Wonderful Tonight," "Key to the Highway" and "Cocaine."

The return of drummer Steve Gadd and bassist Nathan East from an earlier lineup, replacing most recent rhythm section Steve Jordan and Willie Weeks, was something of a calculated move. Clapton specifically says he wanted to revisit the groove from the earlier part of the century.

Rounding out the band is Paul Carrack (Hammond organ, vocals); Chris Stainton (keyboards); and Michelle Johnson and Shar White on backing vocals, the former also returning to the touring fold).

Interview and performance segments from stops in Japan (multiple), Singapore, Dubai, and Bahrain are spread out. But it's the Land of the Rising Sun that clearly holds the most deeply, emotional connection to Clapton.

At one point he muses it would be "hard" to give up ever returning to Japan, then in the next breath tells longtime promoter/booker Mr. Udo that he would return.

It's something of a treat to see the footage of Mr. Udo. Hardcore readers of classic rock biographies are certainly familiar with the name, as he and his Udo Artists have had pretty much the monopoly on bringing (and caring for once in country) American and English rock bands to the country for more than four decades.

Story continues on the next page.

But rather than the formidable and feared figure he'd seem, Mr. Udo is actually a short, squat, bespectacled guy who clearly gets choked up talking about his special relationship with Clapton. When he presents the artist with an award marking his 200th career performance in Japan (speaking in English from a piece of paper), Clapton makes impromptu speech thanking the promoter for sticking with him even when "he was a bad boy" in much of the '70s and '80s, invoking the Japanese phrase of loyalty, "bushido."

Eric Clapton clearly reveres his blues heroes - many of whom were still out on the road plying their trade all over the world well into their seventies, eighties, and even nineties (B.B. King is 89!).

Clapton himself turns 70 on March 30, 2015. Whether he then decides to stop international touring, extensive touring, all touring, or changes nothing at all, you can't say you weren't warned. Planes, Trains and Eric makes a fitting send-off...if it turns out that way.

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