Saturday Night: Eric Clapton at Toyota Center

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Eric Clapton, the Wallflowers Toyota Center March 16, 2013

As the house lights went up on the near-capacity crowd at the Toyota Center, there was an audible collective gasp. Thousands of concertgoers looked at each other with wide, stunned eyes. Could this be possible? Was it a cruel joke?

Would it take another round of screams, stomps, and cell-phone-light screen-wavings to bring him back out to rip into that famous seven-note opening and cause classic rock creaming in the collective jeans of all around???

Surely, when Eric Clapton didn't play the slower-tempoed, MTV Unplugged version in the show's middle acoustic set, it was just setting the stage for the final song of the night. But no, after an encore that included a bombastic version of Cream's "Sunshine of Your Love," and a spirited, raucous cover of Joe Cocker's "High Time We Went," the headliner and his crew took the sentiment of that latter tune and calmly walked offstage.

It was true. A Clapton concert. With no "Layla."

But you know what? That was fine. For whatever reason he chose not to include his most famous song in the set list this night (and I'm a firm believer in a musician's right not to be a greatest-hits jukebox... being a Neil Young fan has conditioned me to that), Eric Clapton and a sickly talented eight-piece backing band delivered a solid two-hour show with perhaps the best sound I've ever heard in the converted basketball arena, touching on most aspects of a musical career celebrating 50 years in 2013.

Ambling onstage to no fanfare, a relaxed-looking, jeans-wearing Clapton gently launched into deep cut "Hello Old Friend" and "My Father's Eyes" before strapping on an electric for Derek and the Dominos' strident "Tell the Truth" and later, that same group's "Got to Get Better In a Little While." Both were show highlights. But it was "I Shot the Sheriff" that really engaged the audience, featuring a great extended Clapton solo.

His backing band included many longtime collaborators and stars on their own right: Doyle Bramhall II (guitar), Steve Jordan (drums), Willie Weeks (bass), Chris Stainton (piano/keyboards), Greg Leisz (pedal steel), Paul Carrack (organ, keyboards) and backup singers Michelle John and Sharon While.

In terms of audience interaction, Clapton limited it to frequent "Thank YOU's!" after almost every number. But the crowd got something of a nice surprise with Carrack, who got to sing two of his own big hits, "Tempted" (from Squeeze) and "How Long" (from Ace), eventually coming to the realization that this was the same guy from those records. Jordan and Weeks made for an unbelievably tight and powerful rhythm section, and Bramhall added some six-string flash and gritty vocals.

Clapton has a new record out, Old Sock, featuring mostly comfort music of laid-back covers. Two of its tracks made it into Saturday's show -- the high-energy original "Gotta Get Over," and a lolling take on the traditional Leadbelly tune "Goodnight, Irene."

The middle acoustic section offered a couple of blues covers, wedding-ceremony standard "Wonderful Tonight," and a plaintive "Tears in Heaven" -- the last with a flash of country and reggae sounds that made the sometimes overexposed ballad sound fresh.

The show did drag with the inclusion of a four-song set of Robert Johnson songs, heavy on the slow blues. And while Clapton's admiration for the blues legend and his personal passion for the genre are well-known (this is a guy who quit the red-hot Yardbirds because their hit "For Your Love" was too pop-sounding), it was a bit patience-testing, despite the skill with which the material was played.

The main-set ender "Cocaine" returned some rock fury and brought the audience to its feet (and some air-guitar glory). Houston was the second stop on the tour and, quizzically, this tune was preceded by "Layla" in the concert's Phoenix predecessor/doppelganger.

A resuscitated Wallflowers opened the show with a compact, fat-free 45-minute set mixing the band's hits like "Three Marlenas" and "Sixth Avenue Heartache" with deep cuts and material from the band's new record, Glad All Over ("The Devil's Waltz," "Love is a Country").

Toward the end of their set, of course, some audience members were yelling loudly for "One Headlight." Singer/guitarist Jakob Dylan playfully asked them to speak up, before quipping, "Somebody asked... all you gotta do is ask sometimes," before launching into the band's biggest hit.

A sentiment that many in the audience wished the evening's headliner -- on their knees and beggin' darlin', please -- probably wished the headliner shared.

Personal Bias: It's Eric Clapton, for God's (no pun intended) sakes! EC was also a favorite of Classic Rock Dad's.

The Crowd: Mostly forty- through sixtysomethings. An alarmingly high number of cougars with bad plastic surgery.

Overheard In the Crowd Men's Room: "I wish beer had more lasting power. It goes right through you, just like coffee. Which at my age, isn't good."

Random Notebook Dump: How can this woman on the floor be asleep during "Cocaine?"


Hello Old Friend My Father's Eyes Tell the Truth Gotta Get Over Black Cat Bone Got to Get Better in a Little While Tempted I Shot the Sheriff Driftin' Blues Nobody Knows You When You're Down and Out Tears in Heaven Goodnight Irene Wonderful Tonight How Long Stones in My Passway Love in Vain Crossroads Little Queen of Spades Cocaine


Sunshine of Your Love High Time We Went

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