Eric Clapton – Rainbow Concert (Mid Valley MVR 234/235/236/237)

Rainbow Concert (Mid Valley MVR 234/235/236/237)

Rainbow Theater, London, England – January 13th, 1973 (early and late show)

Disc 1 (43:39), 1st Stage: Layla, Badge, Blues Power, Nobody Knows You When You’re Down And Out, Roll It Over, Why Does Love Got To Be So Sad, Little Wing

Disc 2 (49:01): Bottle Of Red Wine, After Midnight, Bell Bottom Blues, Presence Of The Lord, Tell The Truth, Pearly Queen, Let It Rain, Crossroads

Disc 3 (41:03), 2nd Stage: Layla, Badge, Blues Power, Nobody Knows You When You’re Down And Out, Roll It Over, Why Does Love Got to Be So Sad, Little Wing

Disc 4 (59:59): Bottle Of Red Wine, Presence Of The Lord, Tell The Truth, Pearly Queen, Key To The Highway, Let It Rain, Crossroads, Layla. Bonus track: radio spot Rainbow Concert

The famous Eric Clapton “Rainbow Concert” was one of the more significant events in rock history. It was part of England’s “Fanfare For Europe,” a week-long celebration of England’s entry into the European Common Market beginning on January 8th of that year.

Organized by Pete Townshend to help Clapton kick his habit to heroin and boost his career, he organized a backing group consisting of Ronnie Wood (guitar), Steve Winwood (keyboards), Rebop Kwaku Baah(percussion), Jim Capaldi (drums), Rich Grech (bass), and Jimmy Karstein (drums). On January 13th there were two concerts, the early at 6:30 pm and the late at 8:30 pm. Both were recorded on Ronnie Lane’s mobile studio and an official live album, Eric Clapton’s Rainbow Concert (Polydor 831320-2), was released the following September.

There were complains that this album was poorly mixed and all of the songs derived from the early show. Also, it contained only six songs: “Badge”, “Roll It Over”, “Presence Of The Lord”, “Pearly Queen”, “After Midnight”, and “Little Wing.” Twenty-two years to the day of the show later an expanded version was released Eric Clapton’s Rainbow Concert featuring more music from the early show, adding “Layla”, “Blues Power”, “Bottle Of Red Wine”, “Bell Bottom Blues”, “Tell The Truth”, “Key To The Highway”, “Let It Rain”, and “Crossroads.” Although there are more tracks on the expanded version, some complained because the songs were still edited and some even complained that it is too clean sounding! Nevertheless it was great to hear more material from these historic concerts.

On unofficial releases, the Rainbow concerts have been covered by Rainbow Concert (ARMS 16/17R), a soundboard of the first show with “Nobody Knows When You’re Down And Out” taken from the late show. Capricorn released Eric Clapton’s The Rainbow Outtakes (CR-2035) which contains twelve tracks again from the early show. A soundboard from the late show was issued on The Slowhand Masterfile Part 3B: Rainbow Theatre 13.1.73 Late (Antrobus RAINBOWLATE ½).

The ultimate release of these shows belongs to Empress Valley. Their very first release in September 1998 was the eight disc set Rainbow Concert Twenty-fifth Anniversary Edition(Empress Valley EVSD-001/002/003/004/005/006/007/008). This collected the complete early and late shows in both soundboard and audience recordings packaged in gatefold sleeves in a deluxe box set. The label also released a four-disc version, featuring only the soundboards, at that same time in a fatboy jewel case.  In late 2004 EV released this set again on Mid Valley on Rainbow  Concert (MVR 234/5/6/7/8/9/40/41).   

This was a nine disc set with both audience and soundboard recordings initially limited to two hundred copies. An additional one hundred copies were subsequently printed and all sold out. Recorded with Ronnie Lane’s Mobile Studio, the sound quality of the soundboard recordings were far superior to anything else that was released, even surpassing the sound quality of the official release in the opinion of many collectors. This remains one of the most rare and desirable Empress Valley titles in existence.

This release of the Rainbow Concert is a four disc set, issued right after the nine disc set, with only the soundboard for each show. The third disc is represented twice with the “bonus” disc three having the audience recording used to fill in the first three minutes of “Layla.” 

For the first set Clapton uses the “Blackie” Fender Stratocaster. The set list for both shows are drawn from Cream, Derek & The Dominoes, and Eric’s first solo album with nothing from The Yardbirds.  The tape begins with the mc saying, “Ladies and Gentlemen.  This is as great western festival concert but it isn’t really.  It’s down to Pete Townshend, Ronnie Wood and everybody else and not the least of all Eric.  Ladies and gentlemen…Eric Clapton & The Palpitations!”     

“Layla” is played in its complete form followed by “Badge.”  The rhythm section misses a beat in the first break in the song and only the first half is played before it segues with a muscular version of “Blues Power.” 

Afterwards Pete Townshend, who acts as the mc for both shows, introduces the band saying, “the drummer, in the middle here, Mr. Jim Karstein.  Not Jim Keltner….Jim Karstein on drums.  Rick Gretch on bass, Ronnie Wood on guitar.  Just to put your mind at rest, in case you were wondering.  Me on second rhythm guitar.  Crossroads,” he says but they start playing “Nobody Knows You When You’re Down And Out.”  Clapton sings this song with sincerity and conviction and is revealed to be a good summary of the previous years.  

The rare “Roll It Over” is a surprise inclusion in the set and this performance is one of the many highlights in the show and is followed by “Why Does Love Got To Be So Sad?”  The band comes close to a meltdown in the middle but finish strongly.  “Little Wing” is introduced as a “Jimi Hendrix number” and there is a long delay as the band tunes and get ready. During the interruption Townshend speaks about his shirt. Ron Wood calls it a bidet, but Townshend corrects him by saying that, “A bidet is one of those things you sit on in France…it squirts up your bottom…I like ‘em, but this is not one of them.”  “Little Wing” begins in a marital beat and Clapton and Wood take turns in the middle. 

“After Midnight” is played in a slow, dirge-like arrangement completely at odds with the spirit of the song.  After the rare “Bell Bottom Blues” Townshend says, “Somebody requested a song earlier that we happen to know!  We’ve only been rehearsing for ten years.  Seems like it.  We’ve been doing a lot of practicing.  None of it which seems worth it now.  We keep forgetting things.  But anyway they’re all good lads, can’t complain.  And they’re all very personable.  All of ’em.  All except…who’s got a lump somewhere on his body.  I don’t want to say where because it might embaress his mother who I know is here.  Mrs. Capaldi, your son will be well soon.  I’ve got a very good clap doctor.  I mean…  Sorry.  Sorry Eric’s mom.  He’s got a very good doctor.  Me.  Bring me my calipers.  We will remove it slowly but surely.   Which one was it, the left or the right?”  

Winwood sings “Presence Of The Lord” but comes in much too early.  “Hang on, I’ll be with you in a minute” Clapton interjects.  Winwood takes the vocals for “Pearly Queen” which is introduced as a song that “Traffic made famous.”  Winwood also augments “Let It Rain” with raindrops on the Hammond organ.  Just like in “Why Does Love Got To Be So Sad?” they almost fall apart in the middle but recover.  Overall the star power and meaning behind the show carries the show more than what is occuring on stage.  It is tentative, nervous and ragged but ultimately a fascinating show to hear and appreciate.

Discs three and four cover the second show, called “2nd Stage.”  Eric Clapton uses his Gibson Les Paul instead of the Stratocaster and all of the songs share a fattier and heavier arrangement compared to the early show.  The set list is identical for the first half, but in the second both “After Midnight” and “Bell Bottom Blues” were dropped.  “Key To The Highway” and a second version of “Layla” would be added to fill out the bill.       

The best way to hear the entire show is to listen to the bonus disc three which begins with a very good audience recording.  The mc makes an apology and introduces the band before they start “Layla.”  The professional recording cuts in about 2:55.  They manage to get through “Badge” without any mishaps this time and again it flows seamlessly into “Blues Power.”  Steve Winwood sings the vocals for “Nobody Knows You When You’re Down And Out” and Clapton thanks him afterwards.  The Gibson gives added weight to the slutty rhythm of “Roll It Over” conjuring images of go-go dancers against a psychedelic background.  

The show heats up more with “Why Does Love Got To Be So Sad?”  The duel between Clapton and Wood is very desperate and emotional.  Townshend spends several minutes afterwards introducing the band and speaking about all of the musician’s quirks and singling out drummer Jim Karstein who played with Delaney & Bonnie, “and if you can play with them, my God you are a trouper…Oh yea and Eric Clapton on third rhythm guitar.” 

He then continues by introducing “Little Wing.”  The mistakes in the early show are thankfully absent in the second, so they perform very tight versions of “Presence Of The Lord” and “Tell The Truth.”  “Let It Rain” is longer in the late show because of a three minute drum solo in the middle.  After a long period of audience cheering they come back out for “Crossroads” and the third performance of “Layla” of the day.  Among CD editions, this four disc set on Mid Valley is the best way to hear these shows in their unedited form in excellent sound quality.        

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