Beck & Clapton Rock NYC!!!! - by J. Blake

Posted on 2/23/2010 by J. Blake

(New York, NY)

This past week, almost exactly two years after New York City’s Madison Square Garden housed three historic concerts by two of England’s most influential rockers, the venue known as “The World's Most Famous Arena” once again hosted a legendary team up of British rock (and blues) royalty. On Thursday February 18, 2010 Jeff Beck and Eric Clapton took to the stage for their first of only two USA concert dates and entertained the capacity crowd with close to three full hours of rock ‘n’ roll, jazz fusion, reggae, classical and a heaping helping of blues.

Unlike the 2008 Winwood/Clapton concerts, which found the two music titans taking the stage together for the entirety of their performances, Beck and Clapton opted for a different approach. Mimicking their original joint concerts in Japan in February of 2009, the two Yardbird alumni split the evening into three sets; Beck and his band opening the show with 45 minutes of instrumentals, Clapton following with his own band and an a hour’s worth of career-spanning hits and the two joining forces for a blues-filled 40 minute finale.

As Jeff Beck took the stage at 8:01pm with his band and a 30 piece orchestra, patrons were still making their way to their sits. The arena was not yet filled, but there was excitement in the air. The guitar virtuoso opened the evening’s festivities with a medley of John McLaughlin’s “Eternity’s Breath” and Bill Cobham’s “Stratus”. The remainder of his set was full of Beck show staples like “Led Boots”, “Big Block”, “Brush with the Blues” and his Grammy nominated instrumental arrangement of The Beatles’ “A Day in the Life”. The orchestra waiting patiently, only accompanied the aging guitar-legend on the above mentioned Beatles cover and a handful of songs from his forthcoming album, EMOTION & COMMOTION; including a melodramatic encore of Puccini’s “Nessun Dorma”, an aria made famous by the late Luciano Pavarotti.

As always his playing was exceptional; his technique and execution light-years beyond the capabilities of any of his “British Blues Boom” contemporaries. His set-list, noncommercial sensibilities and unorthodox/confrontational playing-style may have found the majority of the classic rock loving audience a bit off guard, but it was clear that he had won them over by the intermission.

After a 30 minute resetting of the stage, Clapton emerged from the wings. He began his set seated with an acoustic guitar in hand; opening with renditions of Charles Brown’s “Driftin’” and Jimmy Cox’s “Nobody Knows You When You’re Down and Out”. “Running on Faith” from his 1989 album JOURNEYMAN as well as “I’ve Got a Rock ‘n’ Roll Heart” from his currently running T-Mobile television spot, followed. As he stood up and strapped on his Stratocaster, newly revived Dominos classics like “Tell the Truth” and Big Bill Broonzy’s “Key to the Highway” elicited cheers from the audience.

The highlight of Clapton’s set unsurprisingly came in the form of reggae. Some of his most inspired playing of the evening occurred as the band vamped in the key of ‘G’ over a standard reggae beat; before launching in the signature riff of Bob Marley’s “I Shot the Sheriff”. A slow blues arrangement of Robert Johnson’s “Little Queen of Spades” and yet another lackluster version of J.J. Cale’s “Cocaine” concluded Clapton’s solo set and though his set certainly satisfied the casual concertgoer, it undoubtedly left the Clapton fanatics in the audience (like myself) slightly disappointed.

His hour long set was casual and laidback, but unfortunately not in a good way. The song selection would’ve been better suited to a smaller venue and despite a few sparks of musical intensity, his playing as a whole seemed a little cold, distant and uninspired. His lack of a rhythm guitarist, though a rare and interesting occurrence, sadly left some of the songs sounding hollow and empty; i.e. “Running on Faith” sans its familiar slide-guitar/dobro accompaniment.

Fortunately the evening was not yet over. As “Cocaine” came to a close Jeff Beck strolled on to the stage with a Telecaster slung over his shoulder and a bottleneck slide on his finger. The two former blues disciples returned to their roots, launching into a lively cover of Elmore James’ “Shake Your Moneymaker”. In fact, with the exception of an oddly chosen and crudely executed version of Johnny Mercer’s “Moon River” and an energetic cover of Sly Stone’s “(I Want to Take You) Higher”, the bulk of their time together on stage was spent (for better or for worse) exploring the simplistic beauty of the 12-bar blues.

As on Jeff Beck’s 2009 DVD,
PERFORMING THIS WEEK…LIVE AT RONNIE SCOTTS, the night’s highlights were undoubtedly Willie Dixon’s “You Need Love” and Muddy Waters’ “Little Brown Bird”. On these songs, the two guitar-legends lived up to their titles with their musical interplay and Clapton’s vocals were particularly passionate and on point. From a trivial standpoint, it is also worth noting that “Little Brown Bird” actually appeared as the B-side to Muddy Water’s original Chess single of “You Need Love” in 1962.

Their cover of Jimmy Reed’s “Wee Wee Baby” was also exceptional and their joint set was rounded out by covers of two former Cream blues classics; Blind Joe Reynolds’ “Outside Woman Blues” and an encore of Robert Johnson’s “Crossroads”.

It was a fun evening of music and it undoubtedly satisfied the bulk of those in attendance, but for guitar enthusiasts and Beck/Clapton fanatics (like myself), the performance just did not live up to expectation. Though their separate sets were certainly entertaining enough, they did not reach the bar that either artist has set for themselves in previous solo performances. Unfortunately the night became more about waiting for their inevitable team up, as opposed to being awed by their individual talents.

Sadly even the team up, as great as it was, just managed to miss the mark. Obviously seeing these two masters play the blues together was a thrill, but to only play eight songs and have six of them be so similar; it seemed like a bit of a waste and quite frankly, a little beneath them. Seeing that these are two of the greatest guitarists to ever strap on a Fender, a more varied and complex set-list would’ve been more satisfying. What they played together may have been unbelievable in a small club, but for a sold out (19,500+) crowd, Beck and Clapton needed to step it up just a bit.

Unfortunately the two guitarists did not share the same kind of chemistry that Clapton and Winwood had on stage. They did not seem to be having fun while they played together and they appeared to lack that friendly rivalry that could have pushed them both to new heights. If anything, their joint set seemed to be more about dumbing down Beck’s skill, than pushing Clapton out of his comfort zone; a harsh contrast from Clapton’s exceptional performances with The Allman Brothers Band in March of last year.

With all that said, Jeff Beck and Eric Clapton are legends of rock and blues guitar and their team up is iconic. Their performances may not have completely satisfied this picky critic, but thousands of other music fans that were in attendance that night left Madison Square Garden with their minds blown and I would be lying if I said the performance wasn’t well worth the price admission.

*If you enjoyed this article, you may also enjoy: Clapton & Winwood Rock Philly!!!

Thanks and keep reading American Blues News!!!

Copyright © 2010 - J. Blake. All Rights Reserved

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