Paris – Bercy ’95 (ARMS 51/52/53/54 PR)
After the successful “Nothing But The Blues” tours in 1994 and an extended series of blues shows at the Royal Albert Hall in London, Eric Clapton took the show on a European tour in the spring of 1995. The only shows in France were two nights at the 17,000 capacity Palais Omnisports de Paris Bercy in Paris at the end of April.
These were his first live appearance in Paris since the June 18th, 1992 double bill with Elton John at the Hippodrome de Vincennes
His latest album was successful in France. From The Cradle reached as high as number six and was certified double gold by the Syndicat National de l’Édition Phonographique (SNEP). The shows were both sell outs and were enthusiastically received.
Paris-Bercy ’95 on ARMS is four disc set documenting both shows utilizing excellent, near flawless DAT stereo audience recordings. The first night sounds closer to the stage than the second, but they are both very nice. The April 21st show is unfortunately plagued by “bumps” between many of the tracks and several digital “smudges” on the music. Since there are no other silver pressed versions of these shows available, ARMS is the definitive title.
Palais Omnisports de Paris Bercy, Paris, France – April 21st, 1995
Disc 1 (71:14): Motherless Child, Malted Milk, From Four Until Late, How Long Blues, Kidman Blues, I’m Gonna Cut Your Hair, .44, Blues Leave Me Alone, Standin’ Around Cryin’, Hoochie Coochie Man, It Hurts Me Too, Blues Before Sunrise, Third Degree, Reconsider Baby, Sinner’s Prayer, Every Day I Have the Blues, Early In The Morning
Disc 2 (50:42): Before You Accuse Me, Someday After a While, Tore Down, Have You Ever Loved Woman, Crossroads, Five Long Years, Sweet Home Chicago, Ain’t Nobody’s Business
The setlist didn’t change on this tour. Each show was well rehearsed with excellent pacing, providing a two hour journey through various styles and arrangements of traditional American blues in rough chronological order.
It starts off with a three song solo set featuring Clapton hunched over his acoustic guitar in an iconic bluesman’s pose of concentration. “Motherless Child,” the old tune by Barbeque Bob, starts off the show with much energy and enthusiasm and afterwards Clapton tells the audience “We’re gonna play the blues. Just nothing but the blues.”
Robert Johnson’s “Malted Milk” is next. Even though many artists in the past (Clapton included) covered Johnson tunes, rarely is the arrangement so faithful to the original Columbia recordings.
The full band arrangements begin with Leroy Carr’s “How Long Blues” from 1928. Clapton sounds extremely passionate playing “.44 Blues.” They play the Howlin’ Wolf Chicago electric blues arrangement of 1954, not the Roosevelt Sykes recording of 1929. Trying to sound like Wolf, it is a harsh, brutal, and ugly arrangement but with beauty in its force. It is the first of many highlights of the set.
One of the highlights is “Everyday I Have The Blues.” It is the most energetic song, bordering more on swing that pure blues. The arrangement also includes a crashing cadence and a reprise of the main melody, played to dramatic effect. It’s followed by “Early In The Morning,” a song played regularly in 1979.
The Bo Diddley cover “Before You Accuse Me” is the closest the set comes to having a recognizable Clapton tune. It’s played in the same arrangement from 1989’s Journeyman album and the subsequent tours. The set ends with the unique arrangement of “Crossroads” and a very long, scorching version of “Five Long Years.”
Palais Omnisports de Paris Bercy, Paris, France – April 22nd, 1995
Disc 3 (63:14): Motherless Child, Malted Milk, From Four Until Late, How Long Blues, Kidman Blues, I’m Gonna Cut Your Hair, .44, Blues Leave Me Alone, Standin’ Around Cryin’, Hoochie Coochie Man, It Hurts Me Too, Blues Before Sunrise, Third Degree, Reconsider Baby, Sinner’s Prayer, Every Day I Have the Blues
Disc 4 (62:03): Early In the Morning, Before You Accuse Me, Someday After a While, Tore Down, Have You Ever Loved A Woman, Crossroads, Five Long Years, Sweet Home Chicago, Ain’t Nobody’s Business
The April 22nd show comes from another excellent stereo DAT audience recording. It is more distant than the previous evening with a louder echo, but it perfectly captures the atmosphere and is a charm of the show. It also doesn’t contain the mastering faults (no “bumps” or digital scratches).
One collector wrote about this tape that it is “one of the most exciting boots I have, very great version of ‘Crossroads’ (Un des meilleurs bootlegs de ma collection avec une super version de ‘Crossroads’).” As good at the April 21st show is, this one is much tighter and more exciting.
Nothing is different in the setlist. He plays the same songs and even has the same between song quips to amuse the Parisian audience. Perhaps it is the limitations of the tape source – but this has to be the dirtiest, most brutal and visceral of the From The Cradle shows on tape. Instead of delivering an academic clinic on the history of the blues, Clapton and the band breath life into the very art-form and make a convincing argument for the style’s continued viability.
The highlights of the show include “Every Day I Have The Blues,” another performance which blows the roof off of the venue. The energy created by the audience increases throughout the show. As the collector points out, “Crossroads” is excellent.
The set ends with a very long and intense performance of Eddie Floyd’s 1952 tune “Five Long Years.” The piece, which was induced into The Blues Foundation Hall Of Fame in 2011, is one of the best blues songs and deserves the care and intensity Clapton gives it.
After several minutes of stomping and clapping, Clapton returns to the stage for a cover of “Sweet Home Chicago” closer to the Blues Brothers 1980 arrangement than to the Robert Johnson original (minus the horn section). The 1922 tune “Ain’t Nobody’s Business” (aka “‘Tain’t Nobody’s Biz-ness if I Do”) is the second encore and closes the night.
ARMS employs many kinds of packaging, but for Paris-Bercy ’95 use a basic quad fatboy jewel case with photographs from the tour on the artwork. This, along with the Zurich show a couple days later, are the most readily available and popular shows from the European leg. Despite the flaws found on the first show, this is a title worth having.