God Notes Volume 1 (no label)
Eric Clapton began 2011 by playing in unusual (for him) places such as Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates, Seoul, South Korea and in Singapore before a two week tour of the west coast. His touring band is the same as in 2010 with the double keyboard arrangement with Chris Stainton and Tim Carmon.
Clapton hasn’t employed a second guitarist since 2009 when Doyle Bramhall II was with the band. Also in the band are Willie Weeks on bass, Stave Gadd on drums and Michelle John and Sharon White on backing vocals.
There are also major similarities in the setlist as well. The biggest influence is his latest release Clapton, which came out in November 2010. He tried to expand his musical vocabulary past the blues to include jazz as well as a stronger presence of Kansas City and New Orleans blues. This is seen in the choice of numbers which emphasize a greater variety of styles than expected.
God Notes Volume 1 presents two shows in the final week of the tour. Both the Las Vegas and San Diego concerts are sourced from superlative sounding audience recordings. Except for rare audience chatting, these are two of the best tapes from this visit and are extremely enjoyable.
MGM Grand Garden Arena Las Vegas, NV – March 5th, 2011
Disc 1 (68:26): opening, Key To The Highway, Going Down Slow, Hoochie Coochie Man, Old Love, I Shot The Sheriff, Driftin’, Nobody Knows You When You’re Down And Out, River Runs Deep, When Somebody Thinks You’re Wonderful, Same Old Blues, Layla
Disc 2 (42:56): Badge, Wonderful Tonight, Before You Accuse Me, Little Queen Of Spades, Cocaine, Crossroads
The MGM Grand Garden Arena hold more than 16,000 and has very good acoustics which helped the sound quality. It is very dynamic and enjoyable, being better than many soundboard recordings.
After a short opening the band come onstage with “Key To The Highway,” the tune which opens all of the shows followed by a smooth rendition of “Going Down Slow.” Although one reviewer calls the performance “by-the-book,” the female vocalists really carry the song with their gentle voices.
A twelve-minute “Old Love” is resurrected from the Journeyman tour and provides much dramatic excitement. Clapton provides a tasteful yet blistering solo followed by one by Tim Carmon on keyboards. They both receive very loud ovations and reviewers point out this to be the highlight of the evening.
“I Shot The Sheriff” starts off with a long, lazy guitar doodle before they find the ancient melody. The rest of disc one follows the “sit down” set. He utlizes the Martin acoustic for “Driftin'” and “Nobody Knows You When You’re Down And Out” and switches to an electric Gibson for the next four songs. He plays “Layla” in the 1992 “Unplugged” arrangement, but on electric guitar lending a vastly different feel to the piece.
Both “Little Queen Of Spades” and “Cocaine” have long solo passages in the middle to show off the keyboardists improvisational skills. The encore was supposed to be “Further On Up The Road,” but Clapton changed his mind. He plays a bit of “Rambling On My Mind” (identified by the taper!) before starting a jazz/funk arrangement of “Crossroads.”
Valley View Casino Center, San Diego, CA – March 6th, 2011
Disc 3 (67:15): opening, Key To The Highway, Going Down Slow, Hoochie Coochie Man, Old Love, I Shot The Sheriff, Driftin’, Nobody Knows You When You’re Down And Out, River Runs Deep, When Somebody Thinks You’re Wonderful, Same Old Blues, Layla
Disc 4 (44:44): Badge, Wonderful Tonight, Before You Accuse Me, Little Queen Of Spades, Cocaine, Crossroads
On March 6th Clapton played in the Valley View Casino Center in San Diego, the old San Diego Sports Arena. The recording is very clear and enjoyable. It is a bit further from the stage compared to the Las Vegas tape, but is very enjoyable nonetheless.
The setlist is the same as the previous night too, including the same funky arrangement of “Crossroads” for the encore. The highlights come early when they play a scorching rendition of “Old Love.” Tim Carmon especially stands out, playing a jazzy electric piano solo. Clapton duplicates the improv on guitar before bring it to an end.
“I Shot The Sheriff” has a unique, almost zydeco style introduction before the song starts. Most of the reviews single out this performance as the evening’s highlight, and it’s hard to argue the point. No matter how many times he plays it, Clapton injects enough passion and energy to make it sound fresh.
The sit down section is the same, starting with “River Runs Deep,” including the Cale cover “Same Old Blues” and ending with “Layla.” The latter is notable for the dorky, clumsy piano solo in the middle played by Carmon.
The latter half of the show is particularly strong with a groovy “Before You Accuse Me” and a version of “Little Queen Of Spades” with great solos by both Stainton and Carmon on the B-3 Hammond organ.
The brilliance of the keyboardist, and the extent to which they solo in the show, contributed to a mixed review of this concert written by George Varga and published in the San Diego Union-Tribune. After pointing out Clapton’s genius and brilliance, he goes on to write:
“But what proved both fascinating and frustrating Sunday was how, nearly every time the music reached a boil, Clapton would quickly bring it down to a simmer. When organist/synthesizer player Tim Carmon and former Joe Cocker pianist Chris Stainton kicked things into high gear – as they did most notably during their rousing solos on back-to-back readings of Robert Johnson’s ‘Little Queen of Spades’ and Cale’s ‘Cocaine’ near the concert’s conclusion- it seemed reasonable to expect Clapton to respond in kind.
“Instead, he reined the music back in, much like an elder master reminding his younger charges about the importance of craft and discipline over impetuous abandon. (Never mind that Stainton is a year older than his famous employer.) Clapton’s guitar solo on the concert-concluding ‘Crossroads,’ the Robert Johnson-penned Delta-blues classic popularized in the 1960s by Cream, clocked in at exactly one minute. That was, incidentally, longer than a good number of his solos on other songs.
“Such restraint by the star of the show may be admirable from an aesthetic level. And, lord knows, Clapton long ago proved he can eloquently express almost anything he wants with just his fingers and six strings. (That may explain why, apart from introducing Carmon and Stainton late in the evening, the only words Clapton said to the near-capacity audience of 11,036 were ‘Good evening’ and ‘Thank you.’)
“But while less can often be more, there are times when throwing caution to the wind and letting things rip, rather than being a musical tease, can be more satisfying for artist and listener alike. Here’s hoping Eric Clapton’s next San Diego concert doesn’t err on the side of caution and restraint.”
God Notes Volume 1 is packaged in a fatboy jewel case with several photographs from the show printed on the artwork.If you liked this review, buy me a cup of joe. (Suggested: $3 a shot or $7.5 for a double)