Eric Clapton – Live Birthday Party (Mid Valley MVR 444-47)

Live Birthday Party (Mid Valley MVR 444-447)

Civic Center, St. Paul, MN. – March 30, 1998

Disc1. My Father’s Eyes – Pilgrim – One Chance – River of Tears – Going Down Slow – Born in Time – She’s Gone – Tears in Heaven – Circus Left Town – Layla – Needs His Woman – Change the World.

Disc2. Old Love – Sick and Tired – Have You Ever Loved a Woman – I Shot the Sheriff – Wonderful Tonight – Tearing Us Apart – Sunshine of Your Love – Crossroads.

Disc3. My Father’s Eyes – River of Tears – Pilgrim – Brokenhearted – One Chance – Circus – Going Down Slow – Fall Like Rain – Born in Time – Sick & Tired – Needs His Woman – She’s Gone – You Were There – All Things Considered.

Disc4. River of Tears – Pilgrim – Born in Time – Circus – Needs His Woman – Modern Girl – Main Pass – Lead Voc Up – BG Voc Up – LD&BG Voc Up – TV Version – Instrumental – Acapella – Lead Voc. Only – BG Voc. Only.

“Live Birthday Party” may just be Mid Valley’s weakest release in a long while. The sound quality of the audience tape used albeit good is still far from the excellent audience recordings MV usually treat us to. Maybe because of that MV opted to release a 4CD set with some soundboard stuff to make up for that below-par audience tape we get.

Discs1&2 feature the opening show for the first leg of the 1998 US Tour. Disc3 is studio stuff and features the so-called “Revised EQ Version #4” which is taken from a rare 1998 Reprise Security Service 14-track CD-R acetate which features “All Things Considered” later to be retitled “Inside Of Me” for the finished album. More studio stuff can be found on Disc4, which features six tracks from the “Pilgrim Master Mixes” (readily available on the bootleg on the EC IS HERE label (DJ COPY 56)) and nine tracks from the “Organized Noise Remixes”.

The live tape captures the first show of EC’s 1998 US Tour – first tour there since 1995. The sound is distant in places and you will hear people chat more than you’d wish but on the other hand, being the opening show you will be able to listen to songs to be dropped from the setlist for the rest of the tour. This is the case of “Born In Time” and “Needs His Woman” which would be dropped from the setlist after this gig.

“Pilgrim” sounded so strange when it came out. EC was definitely trying a new sound. He got that on the album and he wanted that on tour as well, that’s why so many new faces surfaced in the band: Alan Darby (guitar), Ricky Lawson (drums), Tim Carmon (keyboards), Kenneth Crouch (keyboards), Chyna (vocals) and Charlean Hines (vocals). Only Nathan East (bass), Andy Fairweather-Low (guitar) and Katie Kissoon (vocals) had toured with EC before. Also, EC was accompanied on this tour by a 20-piece orchestra with Nick Ingman as conductor.

The show sounds quite different to other shows of the tour not only due to the fact of being a new band still needing to get tighter but also to the fact of some songs not being completely developed by now.”My Father’s Eyes” won’t feature an outro solo from EC as there would be later on the tour. Differences too exist on the intro to “She’s Gone” and at this time EC is still a whole world away from exploiting all the guitar possibilities offered by “River Of Tears”. “Born In Time” is one of my favourite tracks on the “Pilgrim” album and I like it on its live version though EC’s guitar solos are again conspicuous by their absence. The highlight on the 5-song acoustic set has got to be the rare performance of the tender “Needs His Woman”.

For the second part of the show we get more from “EC The Guitar Player” than from “EC The Singer” with great guitar works on “Old Love”, “Have You Ever Loved A Woman” and “Sick & Tired”, which angered some women’s groups at the time with the offending lyrics “I’m gonna get me a shotgun, baby / Keep it stashed behind the bedroom door / I may have to blow your brains out, baby / Then you won’t bother me no more”. I find the lyrics inappropriate these days but it is true that they represent the tradition of blues music too.

“Sheriff” never lets you down and the rendition of “Wonderful Tonight” is nice featuring the great vocals of Katie Kissoon along with the strings of the orchestra and subtle licks from EC. “Tearing Us Apart” features some rushing solos but it indeed is a weird closing for the show. EC returns on stage to play “Sunshine” for the encore saying “this is the best birthday I’ve ever had”. EC would return on stage once more for “Crossroads” as a second encore. It has a kind of abrupt ending with a slight false step from the drummer but it nonetheless is a great rendition.

Not the best audience recording ever. I could live without the studio discs too. Half of the show sees EC sing. Only the other half sees him attack the guitar. “Born In Time” has been played live just a couple of times so far. One is captured on this release and the second one – a far much better one, by the way – took place at the Crossroads Benefit Concert on June 30, 1999 when EC was joined by Dylan himself. “Needs His Woman” is unavailable elsewhere. I am glad to have this in my collection but I admit I will likely be not playing it too much…

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