Clapton plays the blues

In the days before my mp3 player was devoted almost exclusively to blues songs and artists, I spent much of my time listening to (and countless hours playing, on my campus radio station) what was already back then and is still referred to as “classic rock.” Like so many others, much of my initial exposure to the blues came through the music of several groups of British rockers, including one whose 2-disc The Blues album I can pretty much point to as being the crossroads of my musical interests, with me of course choosing the path of the blues, leading me deeper and deeper into the Delta and its music over the years.

So I had a feeling that Thursday night’s Eric Clapton show featuring Roger Daltrey at Pittsburgh’s Mellon Arena would be equally pleasing to both the young and old(er) me. And I’m glad to report these masters didn’t disappoint. Although neither of the bands played a particularly lengthy set (Daltrey clocked in at 45 minutes, while Clapton played an hour and a half), they did manage to pack in plenty of good stuff. Since this is a blues blog, I’ll focus mostly on the blues parts of the show in this posting, although it would be nearly impossible to not mention a few other highlights of the evening.

After opening to “I Can See for Miles,” Daltrey and his band went through only a few other songs before getting to the first blues of the night, Taj Mahal’s “Freedom Ride,” and then coming back to the blues a short time later with a nifty “I’m a Man/My Generation” medley. I’m not sure if it’s Daltrey’s younger band that helps to keep him on his toes or the other way around, but these guys put on a tight and energetic show, with the band doing a fine job of filling in where Daltrey’s vocals and playing may not be the same as say 40 years ago.

You knew it was going to be a good night for the blues when Clapton started his set (and indeed his North American tour) with two blues songs: “Going Down Slow,” followed by “Key to the Highway.” This blues-first approach seems to suit Eric well, as he did the same on his acoustic set, kicking off with “Driftin’ Blues” and “Nobody Knows You (When You’re Down and Out)” before moving into the unplugged version of “Running on Faith,” which will always hold a special meaning for me as one of the first songs to which my wife and I danced at our wedding. A few songs later, Clapton plugged back in for “Badge,” hitting “Little Queen of Spades” and “Before You Accuse Me” before wrapping up his set. Along the way, he played a nice variety of some of his other hits, from “Cocaine” and a slightly different (dare I say even more reggae?) version of  “I Shot the Sheriff” to “Bad Love” and “Rock N’ Roll Heart.”

It was a little disappointing to not see Clapton and Daltrey share the stage for at least one song, but I guess that’s one of the disadvantages of catching the first night of a tour. Clapton did come back out on stage for a one-song encore, a little hit you may have heard called “Crossroads.”

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