Last night, Eric Clapton and Dallas-born guitarist Doyle Bramhall II set fire to their Stratocasters' fretboards. Their fingers slid across the neck, bending strings until they bled the blues. Feeding off a musical energy straight from the Crossroads, the talented guitarists empowered some of Clapton's greatest hits with a musical vibe that felt as if it were kissed by a devil before leaving heaven.
Of course we're talking about Eric Clapton, a recipient of 17 Grammy Awards, the Brit Award and three-time Rock-n-Roll Hall of Fame inductee, so anything less than magnificent would have been hell.
Kicking off the fourth date of his 50th Anniversary Tour, Clapton arrived in good spirits and mesmerized the crowd at the American Airlines Center. "Layla" had the crowd moving their heads to the beat, while "Wonderful Tonight" brought tears to their eyes. "Laydown Sally" had a few attendees dancing, but a majority of them remained in their seats, bobbing their heads. When the opening licks of his infamous song "Cocaine" erupted from the speakers, everyone in the arena stood and swayed to the music, screaming "Cocaine" at just the right time.
It was magical.
Changing guitars as if he were a slinger from the Old West, Clapton proved why a Fender Stratocaster is the perfect instrument for playing the blues. Each mournful note tore through the crowd. While Clapton's guitars shimmered with power, Doyle's axe looked like he pulled it from the trash before coming to the show. Black electrical tape covered part of the body, and battle scars covered its faded surface, reminding me of another blues guitarist (SRV) who played a similar piece of shit. It was magical, too.
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Clapton also paid homage to blues legend Robert Johnson, playing four of the Mississippi bluesman's songs. His rendition of "Little Queen of Spades" and "Crossroads" resonated with crowd. But he was really channeling Johnson's spirit throughout the evening. The connection was so powerful that if you closed your eyes, you could see the dust clouds swirling across the Crossroads. And each time Clapton hit that perfect pitch, another one of Johnson's notes resonated from the past. It was a good reprieve from the horrible image of the Karate Kid battling Steve Vai for the old blues legend's soul.
When organist Paul Carrack sang "How Long," an old '70s hit, a record producer sitting next to me said actress Renée Zellweger tried to steal my seat when I left to take a few photos. It sounded like a cruel joke; but then my seat was rather warm when I returned. The temptation to scour the crowd for the actress was nearly overwhelming until Clapton stepped forward and blazed through another solo.
In two weeks Clapton turns 68, and he's still able to slay crowds with his chops. In fact, his playing inspired a White Collar Mosh Pit. It was frightening. Ray Bans flew into the air and Polos ripped as yuppies scuffled -- or maybe they were dancing -- to determine who was going to surf the pit first. More security appeared. The guitar legend simply closed his eyes and tapped into the blues.