Eric Clapton – NEC (Mid Valley MVR 278/279)
NEC, Birmingham, UK – April 30, 2004
Disc 1. Let it Rain – Hoochie Coochie Man – Walk Out in the Rain – Bell Bottom Blues – I Shot the Sheriff – Milkcow’s Calf Blues – When You Got a Good Friend – They’re Red Hot – Kindhearted Woman Blues
Disc 2. Got to Get Better in a Little While – Have You Ever Loved A Woman – Badge – Wonderful Tonight – Layla – Cocaine – Sunshine of Your Love – Got My Mojo Working
Being a show from the 2004 Tour and being a Mid Valley release I knew in advance I could not go wrong with this title…. And how right I was!!! “NEC” is a great audience recording of a very good performance.
Having released the “Me & Mr. Johnson” album on March 22, EC embarked on a major European Tour just two days later, which comprised a total of 28 shows, 13 of them in the UK alone including a 6-date stint at the RAH. NEC features the 21st show of the tour. EC’s band now consists of Steve Gadd (drums), Doyle Bramhall II (guitar), Billy Preston and Chris Stainton (keyboards), Natahn East (bass) and Sharon White and Michelle John (backing vocals).
Why I love this tour so much may be due to the fact that EC is accompanied by Doyle Bramhall II and for some reason that makes him attack the guitar more than he used to while with Andy Fairweather-Low. I just find more expressive, edgy solos on this tour than on the Japan tour that had finished in late 2003. Also, the addition of Billy Preston to the band is an unbelievable asset and always a joy to listen to.
Let It Rain, which was resurrected for this tour, does not sound like an opener but much more like a song well into the show instead, and seems to anticipate how good the gig is going to be. Hoochie Coochie Man sees a great Billy Preston on the keyboards before EC throws in a brilliant solo. Walk Out In The Rain is one of my favourite tracks on the Backless album and is a song that EC last performed live back in the late 70’s. These may not be well known numbers for many people in the audience, but they are for me and, if you’re reading this, they must be for you too, so I do appreciate the fact that EC takes risks and revisits his old catalogue even if that means having to rehearse, something I’m not sure EC is really fond of. Bell Bottom Blues is great with EC on electric mode and Doyle adding some excellent work on the slide guitar. These new songs and arrangements along with some new faces in the band are indeed some breaths of fresh air.
EC’s solo on the outro to Sheriff – always a show stealer – is worth the price of admission on its own. Then it’s time for the Robert Johnson segment of the show. Listening to the work of this blues innovator is always a pleasure but listening to EC-enhanced versions of his work is twice a pleasure! My favourite has got to be the emotional Kindhearted Woman, with EC delivering both a great vocals and a solid guitar solo.
Even if EC announced a gig in which he played one song and spent the rest of the time reciting the phone book, I would attend the gig as long as the song performed was Got To Get Better. I just bless the day EC decided to perform that song live again. Though a little bit lost on the first solo, EC does make up for that on the second one. Have You Ever Loved A Woman sees both Billy Preston and Chris Stainton do a wonderful job on the keyboards as well as Doyle on the guitar but then comes EC again to steal the song with a heartbreaking solo, even seeming to flub a line at some point of it!
For the final stretch of the show EC keeps in store a hits package. Badge – its only downside being Doyle’s extremely short solo at the end -, Wonderful Tonight, Layla – featuring a beautiful coda with Doyle on slide – and Cocaine.
The encore consists of Sunshine Of Your Love, with Nathan East screwing up his vocals on the second verse, and Got My Mojo Working. Both songs feature Robert Randolph, who was the support artist for the tour, on pedal steel.
There are (even) better audience recordings on MVR’s catalogue but “NEC” is indeed a very good tape with minimal clapping interference at some points. Not a historical night, but if you like the 2004 Tour, you have to have this.