Eric Clapton – Zenith (Beano-061)
Royal Albert Hall, London, England – February 17th, 1991
Disc 1 (75:28): Introduction, Layla Orchestral Intro, Pretending, No Alibis, Running On Faith, I Shot The Sheriff, White Room, Can’t Find My Way Home, Bad Love, Before You Accuse Me, Old Love
Disc 2 (71:58): Badge, Wonderful Tonight, member introduction, Cocaine, A Remark You Made, Layla, Crossroads, Sunshine Of Your Love, outroduction
Eric Clapton’s annual residencies at the Royal Albert Hall drew him much praise in the press and with fans. It was even immortalized on the 2CD official release 24 Nights, covering tracks from both the 1990 and 1991 shows. In 1991 he played twenty-four shows in February and March.
February 17th is the ten show of the set and was broadcast live on BBC 1 and on the BBC World Service, which means Clapton was heard by the biggest radio crowd since Live Aid. Seven songs appear on Songs For Layla (Great Live Records GLR 9249/50) released in 1992 and Guitar Nights missing “Old Love.”
Better quality tape was pressed on Play With Fire (Blues Power 3003-1945-002) and upgraded on Play With Fire Revisited (Mid Valley MVR 005/006) and was reissued again in 2005 on Mid Valley on Play With Fire (MVR 335/336).
Beano utilize the best available recording and applied more mastering on the tape by adjusting the speed and smoothing over the cuts in the tape, notably in “Wonderful Tonight” at 6:49, cross-fading the tape in “Can’t Find My Way Home” at 11:30 and in “Sunshine Of Your Love” at 9:25 portion of the tape change. Also, Beano have retained the DJ chatter that can be heard between some of the numbers.
The recording begins with DJ Richard Skinner speaking about Clapton’s extensive touring the previous year and describing the nine piece band that will be performing that evening as the orchestral “Layla” introduction starts in the background. He’s quiet by the time Clapton walks onstage (met with a loud roar) and the piano introduction to “Pretending.”
The sound quality of this broadcast is close to perfection. Every instrument can be clearly heard in the mix including the congas in “Pretending.” After the opening song Clapton jokes, “we got a day off and back to work and we’re looking forward to it” before “No Alibis.”
“I Shot The Sheriff” sounds more metal than reggae and segues nicely into “White Room.” The bombastic heavy metal power chords in the opening of the latter contrast well with the former. Both Clapton and Nathan East sing the old Cream classic. East also sings on the Blind Faith song “Can’t Find My Way Home.”
During “Before You Accuse Me” Clapton and the band play a snippet of “Crosscut Saw,” the old blues tune he covered on 1983’s Money And Cigarettes (the previous night “Hideaway” made a small cameo in the same spot).
“Wonderful Tonight” is played in an exulted, sublime arrangement which emphasizes the female singers Katie Kissoon and Tessa Niles. While they lay down a groovy riff, Clapton introduces the band. The even hit upon the familiar melody of “Pick Up The Pieces” by the Average White Band before “Cocaine.” The set ends with “Layla.”
While waiting for the encore, DJ Skinner describes how the road crew are setting up a grand piano onstage for Ray Cooper to use. Skinner also speaks about how Cooper is in semi-retirement, only coming out to play for either Clapton or Elton John. The first encore is a quick version of “Crossroads” followed by another Cream-era song, “Sunshine Of Your Love.” Not only does Cooper have his intense drum solo with audience involvement and grand piano banging interlude, but Steve Ferrone also have an extended drum workout.
Skinner closes the broadcast by commenting on the performance, saying why it’s obvious why Clapton won album rock artist of the year by Billboard and announcing the production staff. He ends with a plug for the next BBC Clapton broadcast on February 25th, one of the “blues nights” which has been booted several times in the past and could benefit from the Beano treatment (** hint ** hint **).
Zenith is packaged in a double slimline jewel case. The same front photo of Clapton on this release is the same one on the old Songs For Layla, the famous shot of Clapton spitting out a solo with an intense look of concentration on his face. Overall this is a fantastic performance by Clapton and great Beano production.