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Eric Clapton – 9 Wonderful Nights At Albert’s Place (Beano-005)

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9 Wonderful Nights At Albert’s Place (Beano-005)

Royal Albert Hall, London, England – January 25th to February 4th, 1988

For ten years, between 1987 and 1996, Eric Clapton would begin the year by playing an extended run of shows at the Royal Albert Hall in London (he did one more set in 2001 in support of Reptile).  In the first year he played six shows at the venue and the following year that number was increased to nine.  With no new album to support except for the career retrospective Crossroads released in April, he was celebrating twenty-five years in the music business.  This run at the Royal Albert Hall is sandwiched between two shows at the NEC in Birmingham and a concert on February 7th at the Civic Hall in Guildford. 

Clapton is joined by his backing band Nathan East on bass, Dire Straits keyboardist Alan Clark, Steve Ferrone on drums, Tessa Niles and Katie Kassoon on back up vocals, Ray Cooper on percussion and Mark Knopfler on guitar.  Phil Collins joins the band on drums for the three February shows.  Knopfler played the Royal Albert Hall with Clapton in 1987 before leaving for other commitments, but spent the entire year in 1988 on Clapton’s global tour.   

The set list is similar to that used the previous year with “Crossroads” and “White Room” opening the show and “Layla” as the closer.  “Miss You,” played with regularity in 1987 was dropped and two songs from August, “Run” and “Behind The Mask” were added.  “Sunshine Of Your Love” was moved from being the an encore to the set closer and “Further On Up The Road” was added as the second encore. 

9 Wonderful Nights At Albert’s Place is an early release by Beano and remains their most ambitious project.  All of the shows originate from the same taper who, by the sound quality, had the same seat for each of the nine shows.  It gives the set an appealing uniformity since all of the shows are in excellent stereo sound quality.  All of the tapes are cut after “Run” which is probably an intentional marker created by the taper.  The box set is limited to two hundred numbered copies.  Each of the nine shows is packaged in a double slimline jewel case and the nine cases are housed in a cardboard slipcase.  The third show is the only one to be pressed on silver in the past so this fills a considerable void.  The sound quality in general is very good to excellent since Beano use very clean tapes with gentle remastering.   

Royal Albert Hall 1988 25th January (Beano-005 A/B) 

Disc 1 (61:31):  Crossroads, White Room, I Shot The Sheriff, Wonderful Tonight, Run, Same Old Blues, Tearing Us Apart, Holy Mother

Disc 2 (60:06):  Badge, Let It Rain, Cocaine, A Remark You Made, Layla, Behind The Mask, Sunshine Of Your Love, Money For Nothing, Further On Up The Road

Beano use a very good sounding audience recording for the opening night at the Royal Albert Hall.  The taper was close to stage and produced a well balanced recording with no audience intrusion.  The only flaw is slight distortion in the upper frequencies in the louder parts.  This is most noticeable during the middle of the show during “Same Old Blues,” “Tearing Us Apart” and “Holy Mother” but is present throughout.  There are cuts after “Run,” “Layla,” and “Sunshine Of Your Love” eliminating audience cheering but no music.  Royal Albert Hall 1988 25th January represents the first silver pressed release of this concert.   

The opening night sets the template for the engagement in terms of the setlist.  The show begins with synthesizer whooshes before starting with “Crossroads.”  Clapton himself takes the first solo and introduces Mark Knopfler for the second.  Clapton greets the audience with a curt “Thank you and good evening.  The next song is ‘White Room’.”  Clapton sings the verses of the song while East sings the choruses.  “I Shot The Sheriff” sounds less reggae and more eighties pop.  The virtuoso centerpiece is the fourteen minute version of “Same Old Blues.”  Clapton, Knopfler, and East each take a solo in their own styles.  

“Badge” is segued directly with “Let It Rain” in in both of the songs Knopfler plays an extraordinary solo.  “A Remark You Made” serves as an introduction for a full version of “Layla” as the set closer.  The first encore is “Behind The Mask” played in medley with “Sunshine Of Your Love.”  The 1985 Dire Straits hit “Money For Nothing” is the first encore, followed by the band introduction, and a long “Further On Up  The Road” as the finale.  This show is tight and well rehearsed, but there is obvious nervousness in the air due most likely to opening night jitters.  However, there are no mistakes in the playing and the band deliver an enjoyable, professional set.

Royal Albert Hall 1988 26th January (Beano-005 C/D)

Disc 1 (61:56):  Crossroads, White Room, I Shot The Sheriff, Wonderful Tonight, Run, Same Old Blues, Tearing Us Apart, Holy Mother

Disc 2 (62:26):  Badge, Let It Rain, Cocaine, A Remark You Made, Layla, Behind The Mask, Sunshine Of Your Love, Money For Nothing, Further On Up the Road

The second Royal Albert Hall show makes its debut on silver disc in this collection.  Like the first night it is a very good and well balanced recording and thankfully devoid of distortion.  There are trace amounts of hiss noticable during the quiet parts of the show but nothing too intrusive.  It is most likely the case that all these shows were taped by the same person since all are very similar in sound quality.  There are cuts in the tape after “Run,” “Layla,” and “Sunshine Of Your Love” eliminating the audience reaction but no music is lost.

The first night was a tight and professional performance, but the band loosen up a bit for the second and deliver a very relaxed and mellow show beginning with a light version of “Crossroads.”  Clapton introduces “White Room” as “another old one, from 1967.”  Like the opening number it is very light sounding and Clark’s Hammond organ accompaniment gives it a strong late sixties sound in direct contrast to the synthesizers he used throughout most of the show.  “Wonderful Tonight,” played close to the Slowhand arrangement, continues the trend but things heat up afterwards.

“Run” is a quick tempo mid-eighties pop song with the disco beat and synthesized saxophones, but Clapton’s scorching solo is an interesting contrast and redeems the song, transporting it into another realm.  “Same Old Blues” pushes fifteen minutes and Knopler, who takes the first solo, sounds like a riot on stage and is followed by East’s quick runs on the bass guitar while scatting along.  Clapton in turn ends the song by playing an intricate and complex solo punctuated by East’s acclamations and is followed by the current hit “Tearing Us Apart.”  Clapton misses a cue at 2:45 but quickly catches up with the rest of the band.  

Knopfler oftentimes upstages Clapton in these shows and does so in “Let It Rain” where he duplicates the solo from Dire Straits’ early hit “Sultans Of Swing.”  “A Remark You Made” is introduced by Clapton, saying, “this is a tribute to the late Jaco Pastorious … ” and the go on to play a longer version than would be featured in the show in later years.  The duel guitar attack in “Layla” is outstanding and on the first encore, “Sunshine Of Your Love,” again has Clapton and East sharing vocals and Clark playing Hammond with Knopfler adding his finger picking by the end.  “Money For Nothing” truly wakes up the audience and the show closes with “Further On Up The Road.” 

 

Royal Albert Hall 1988 27th January (Beano-005 E/F)

Disc 1 (58:39):  Crossroads, White Room, I Shot The Sheriff, Wonderful Tonight, Run, Same Old Blues, Tearing Us Apart

Disc 2 (71:00):  Holy Mother, Badge, Let It Rain, Cocaine, A Remark You Made, Layla, Behind The Mask, Sunshine Of Your Love, Money For Nothing, Further On Up the Road

The third Royal Albert Hall show is the only one to see circulation outside of this boxset.  An incomplete soundboard recording, from “Crossroads” to “A Remark You Made,” can be found on Remarkable Solo(ARMS 55/56R).  Beano use another very good to excellent audience recording similar to the January 26th tape.  It is clear and detailed with no distortion or audience intrusion and with cuts after “Run,” “Layla” and “Sunshine Of Your Love.”  The sound quality and placement of the cuts suggest it to be the work of the same taper from the first two nights.   

But unlike the second night, the third gets off to a fast and aggressive start with “Crossroads.”  It seems like Clapton is chopping the blues chords over the heads of the audience trying to establish his dominance.  “That one was called ‘Crossroads.’  This one is called ‘White Room'” is Clapton’s short introduction to the second Cream classic.  Clapton and East seem to get into a vocal duel with Clapton pouring out the hostility in the verses and East answering in the sweetest, velvet like baritone imaginable.  It’s quite a contrast.    

The synthesized saxophones on “Run” are very loud in this recording, firmly planting this show in the late eighties adult yuppie chic.  “Same Old Blues” extends to sixteen minutes.  Knopfler’s solo seems shy incomparision to East, who again attempts to steal the show by playing a bass solo reminiscent in parts to Chris Squire’s “The Fish.”  Knopfer and Clapton again duel during “Badge” and Clapton waits forever during the pause before playing the descending riff.  Steve Ferrone plays an interesting drum solo during the final encore “Further On Up The Road.”

       

Royal Albert Hall 1988 29th January (Beano-005 G/H)

Disc 1 (61:29):  Crossroads, White Room, I Shot The Sheriff, Wonderful Tonight, Run, Same Old Blues, Tearing Us Apart

Disc 2 (75:34):  Holy Mother, Badge, Let It Rain, Cocaine, A Remark You Made, Layla, Behind The Mask, Sunshine Of Your Love, Money For Nothing, Further On Up the Road

After an off day they come back for the forth show at the Royal Albert Hall and it sounds like the same person who recorded the first three shows came back for this one too.  The sound quality is very loud, clear, centered and powerful and is one of the best of the entire boxset.  Ever detail and nuance of the performance is picked up perfectly providing the most vivid account of the run.  Like the first three tapes, there are small cuts after “Run,” “Layla,” and “Sunshine Of Your Love.”

Along with the excellent recording comes one of the more dynamic shows too.  As “Crossroads” begins there sounds to be a malfunction with the keyboards producing an unpleasant sound throughout the first half of the song adding an almost “industrial” tone to the song.  After “White Room” Clapton plays an extremely fluid solo in “I Shot The Sheriff.”  Niles and Kassoon punctuate the verses very well but it is strange that, in previous tours the women back up singers were given a couple of song to sing solo, in this they are given none.  Except for Kassoon singing a verse in “Tearing Us Apart” they simply interject their “oo-oos” and lend harmony to the arrangements. 

In “Same Old Blues” Knopfler does his best Hendrix impersonation in his solo followed by East and Clapton playing a nice game of call and response going into the bass solo.  East favors long notes in his scatting along with the music.  Clapton spends most of his time in the highest notes on the guitar before descending in a flurry of notes to an out of tune keyboard.  During “Badge” Knopfler plays a lyrical solo and Clark plays an inspired solo in “Cocaine.”

As Clapton introduces “A Remark You Made” the audience become very quiet.  The opening orchestral theme is met with loud whistles and cat-calls from the impatient audience and cheer when Knopfler and Clapton final come in to add their accompaniment.  There is an explosion of energy and excitement when they segue into “Layla” which doesn’t let up until the final note of “Further On Up The Road.”  This is true even thought they play the dullest version of “Money For Nothing” of the set.  But overall this is one of the best sounding tapes and best played concerts in the boxset.    

Royal Albert Hall 1988 30th January (Beano-005 I/J)

Disc 1 (59:51):  Crossroads, White Room, I Shot The Sheriff, Wonderful Tonight, Run, Same Old Blues, Tearing Us Apart

Disc 2 (77:33):  Holy Mother, Badge, Let It Rain, Cocaine, A Remark You Made, Layla, Behind The Mask, Sunshine Of Your Love, Money For Nothing, Further On Up the Road

The tape Beano uses for the fifth night is a very good and clear audience tape.  Except for being slightly more distant compared to the previous evening’s tape it is excellent.  As the show begins Clapton and Knopfler play majestic heavy metal power chords before launching into “Crossroads.”  The second song of the night “White Room” is a particularly effective performance this evening featuring an amazingly fluid and precise solo by the star of the night.  The band sound as if they’re having a ball playing “Run.”  Although this song oozes the Phil Collins “instant hit” they play it with gusto and it turns into an effective late eighties synthesized pop piece.

“We’d like to lie back a bit and do a blues for you.  It’s called ‘Same Old Blues.'”  Reaching more than seventeen minutes in length, Knopfler takes it relatively easy after his feedback exercises of the previous evenings and East plays a very melodic solo on the bass.  Clapton of course asserts his dominance at the end which the audience loudly acknowledges.  “Tearing Us Apart” and “Holy Mother” continue the string of newer material before “Badge” is announced by Clapton saying, “I remember doing this one twenty years ago on the same stage.”  Obviously referring to Cream’s Farewell Concert at the Royal Albert Hall on November 26th, 1968, he has somewhat of a faulty memory since Cream didn’t play this song on that night.  In fact, Cream didn’t play the song until their reunion concerts in May 2005 at this venue.

Mark Knopfler duplicates the famous George Harrison solo before taking off into a patented solo of his own.  By this show he has made this song his own and Clapton wisely gets out of his way and lets him shine.  East gives “Cocaine” a heavy funk feel in the introduction and throughout the performance of the song.  By the encores they are loose enough to improvise a bit more as Clapton introduces the band.  Alan Clark gets into some easy jazz figures on the organ, Knopfler plays hunting calls on the guitar and Ferrone plays a short solo before they all enter “Further On Up The Road” with insidious intent.  Despite the static set lists the musicians are loosening up and improvising a bit more within the confines of the arrangements.

Royal Albert Hall 1988 31st January (Beano-005 K/L)

Disc 1 (67:47):  Crossroads, White Room, I Shot The Sheriff, Wonderful Tonight, Run, Same Old Blues, Tearing Us Apart, Holy Mother

Disc 2 (68:25):  Badge, Let It Rain, Cocaine, A Remark You Made, Layla, Behind The Mask, Sunshine Of Your Love, Money For Nothing, Further On Up the Road

The older tape source for the January 31st show is good and well-balanced with crowd noise close to the microphone and the end of “Further On Up The Road” cut.  This new tape source used by Beano is a drastic improvement with the same sound quality as the other nights. It is very close to the stage, very well balanced picking up all of the details and cut after “Run,” “Tearing Us Apart,” and “Layla.”  About three minutes into “White Room” there is strange feedback coming from the equipment which doesn’t detract from the performance.  “I Shot The Sheriff” is introduced as “a song by Bob Marley.”  They have been doing exalted versions of “Wonderful Tonight” in all these shows and tonight’s is especially beautiful.  

Knopfler delivers a nice, fluid performance for “Run” and provides excellent backing fills on “Holy Mother.”  Before “Badge” Clapton jokes, “this is a song from Cream.  When we broke up, we stayed!”  It is difficult to say who plays better on “Badge” since every performance they really duel it out.  Before “A Remark You Made” Clapton says, “I’d like to take this time to dedicate a tune to the late, great Jaco Pastorious, it’s a tune he wrote called “A Remark You Made.” Unlike performances of “Remark” in later years, which Clapton would sit out, both he and Knopfler play beautiful melodies over an extended performance of “Remark”.

“Layla” really explodes in this recording and continues with Clapton and Knopfler trading solos and playing in unison by the end.  Ironically, the loudest ovation of the night occurs when they start playing “Money For Nothing.”  Everybody it seems sings along to the chorus and “I want my MTVssss.” The very long “Further On Up The Road” contains lots of joking in the band introductions and both East and Ferrone playing extended solos on bass and drums.  The loudest ovation is reserved for Ray Cooper on percussion, one who always seems to find himself in the middle of the action onstage. 

Royal Albert Hall 1988 2nd February (Beano-005 M/N)

Disc 1 (77:31):  Crossroads, White Room, I Shot The Sheriff, Wonderful Tonight, Run, Same Old Blues, Tearing Us Apart, Holy Mother, Badge, Let It Rain

Disc 2 (46:43):  Cocaine, A Remark You Made, Layla, Money For Nothing, Further On Up the Road, Sunshine Of Your Love

The tape for the February 2nd show is in the same excellent stereo sound quality as the others.  Another audience recording is in circulation that is distant and bearly audible and has never been pressed.  The new tape represents a dramatic upgrade.  There is slightly more echo, but it only enhances the atmosphere.  Phil Collins joins the band on drums, augmenting the work of Steve Ferrone by contributing a heavy back beat and throwing in little fills here and there.  Now that the number of percussionists on stage is brought up to three there is the concern that the performances would become drum dominated.  This isn’t the case however since the drummers pick their spots effectively. 

As they go from “Crossroads” into “White Room” Clapton plays a feedback-laden solo reminiscent of his days with Cream.  The song stumbles a bit at the end as they coordinate the breaks.  Collins and Ferrone have fun in the drum interlude during “Run” while Knopfler responds with a delicate country picking solo.  This night’s performance simply burns bright and conjures up the image of Nathan East strutting around the stage, dancing to the tune.  “Same Old Blues” is greeted by shouts of “ERIC!” from the audience and again East comes close to stealing the show from the others.

In “Holy Mother” Clark’s piano is lyrical and stands in contrast to Clapton’s smooth solo and Knopfler’s gorgeous fills.  The two guitarists again take turns in an intriguing duet during “Badge” before segueing into “Let It Rain.”  This evening’s introduction to “Cocaine” sounds a bit like “The Brazilian” on Genesis’ Invisible Touch, pure faux electronic funk.  Clapton introduces the band during the final encore “Further On Up The Road.”  Collins receives the loudest ovation of them all and they all take turns playing a little solo during the course of the jam session on stage.     

Royal Albert Hall 1988 3rd February (Beano-005 O/P)

Disc 1 (58:50):  Crossroads, White Room, I Shot The Sheriff, Wonderful Tonight, Run, Same Old Blues, Tearing Us Apart

Disc 2 (71:24):  Holy Mother, Badge, Let It Rain, Cocaine, A Remark You Made, Layla, Behind The Mask, Sunshine Of Your Love, Money For Nothing, Further On Up the Road

This tape almost identical to the previous evening with a bit more echo than the others and captures a lot of audience whistling during quieter moments, but is still a full bodied and rich audience recording of the entire show.  The right channel drops out halfway through the first song “Crossroads” and lasts through the first third of the second song “White Room” but otherwise the balance is fine for the rest of the recording which begins with the electronic noise introduction as the band come onto the stage.  

Phil Collins sounds more settled by providing additional drumming over Ferrone’s backbeat and is very much audible adding burst of machine gun fire in “I Shot The Sherrif.”  The following song “Wonderful Tonight” sounds slightly slower this evening, more deliberate as they let the keyboards produce the appropriate atmosphere.  “Run” is, an usual, a fun song to break the seriousness before the long epic of the night.  Collins gets carried away at the end of the song and the band almost lose control. 

Clapton’s solo in “Same Old Blues” builds in enormous tension and intensity when he spits out angry blues scales.  “The incredible Eric Clapton” East shouts when he’s done.  Clapton and Knopfler have perfected their unison playing in the latter stages of the concert and is most noticeable in the coda to “Layla.”  In the encores percussionist Ray Cooper becomes more animated than ususal and is bashing the hell out of the tambourine during “Further On Up The Road.”  He also has his spot among the others before they hit a crashing finale. 

  Royal Albert Hall 1988 4th February (Beano-005 Q/R)

Disc 1 (59:04):  Crossroads, White Room, I Shot The Sheriff, Wonderful Tonight, Run, Same Old Blues, Tearing Us Apart

Disc 2 (72:12):  Holy Mother, Badge, Let It Rain, Cocaine, A Remark You Made, Layla, Behind The Mask, Sunshine Of Your Love, Money For Nothing, Further On Up the Road

The final night at the Royal Albert Hall is the most documented with two very good audience recordings and amateur footage in circulation.  Beano’s new tape is in the same excellent sound quality as the other eight nights of this residency and is much superior to the older tapes.  The effect of playing in the same venue is twofold.  This contains several startling performances, but on the other hand there is are point where the show seems to be played in slow motion and lags.  The taper picks up a bit more of the opening synthesizer introduction before they start “Crossroads.” 

Clapton sings “White Room” higher than normal and is in stark contrast to East’s smooth baritone.  Collins continues the machine gunning in “I Shot The Sheriff” and “Wonderful Tonight” is played at the same snail’s pace as the previous evening.  The first of the new songs “Run” sounds very tired and lacking in energy and even Phil’s contribution can’t make it take off. 

Mark Knopfler’s guitar work is well featured by a sweet into to “Holy Mother” and this is the best performance of this exalted tune.  Things pick up with an interesting bass-lead introduction to “Cocaine” and “A Remark You Made” is again dedicated to the late, great Jaco Pastorius.  The final encore is spectacular with East contributing an interesting vocal solo in unison with his bass, and Collins and Ferrone bash out an energetic drum duet in “Further On Up The Road.”  The final ninety second of the tape capture the audience reaction as the massive band take their bows.  “Thank you London, we love you” Nathan East says, capping a long and exhilarating run of shows. 

Late eighties era Clapton is maligned by many collectors who accused him of sacrificing his own artistic judgements at the altar of Phil Collins’ pop-sensibilities.  He has distanced himself from this material following his Journeyman comeback the following year and the songs written in this time period like “Run” and “Tearing Me Apart” have never been played again.  However, in defense of this era Clapton is shrewed enough to not completely surrender his particular muse, and Collins isn’t the souless orge of pop music people think.  Overall 9 Wonderful Nights At Albert’s Place is a masterful release by Beano.

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Eric Clapton - 9 Wonderful Nights At Albert's Place (Beano-005), 2.5 out of 5 based on 4 ratings

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