Eric Clapton – Royal Appointment (no label)

Royal Appointment (no label)

Eric Clapton began and eleven show residency at the Royal Albert Hall, his “front room,” on May 17th, 2011.  Royal Appointment is a six disc set documenting the first three concerts in one six disc set.  The manufacturers utilize excellent stereo DAT recordings for all three nights, presenting an authoritative document.

Very good recordings are to be expected from shows at the Royal Albert Hall.  The acoustics are good, the stage is low, the front rows are about 10 feet from the stage and even the farthest seat is is closer than the mid-point of many larger arenas.  Royal Appointment has a couple of very good panoramic photographs printed on the artwork showing the proximity of Clapton to the audience.

The concerts received very positive reviews from fans and the press.  Enjoli Liston reviewed the first show for The Independent, saying.  “‘This is like walking into my front room,’ jokes old Slowhand, as he strolls on to the wide, rug-covered stage of arguably the UK’s most prestigious venue for the first gig of an 11-night residency.

“Sporting baggy jeans, a casual black shirt and a Stratocaster in aqua, he certainly looks at home, as unmoved by the rapturous applause as he would be by an old friend who’d popped round for a cup of tea and a bit of a jam.

“Clapton has been criticised on this tour for displaying a lack of passion. But he hasn’t needed to strive to please fans with his live show for most of his long career – this is the man, or ‘God’, as he is still known, who used to play lying on his back in an alcohol-induced stupor. The sold-out crowd itches to reward him with a standing ovation from the moment he strums the first chord of Derek and the Dominoes’ blues standard ‘Key to the Highway.'”

And, after describing the set in detail, Liston concludes by writing that “at the end, the crowd are on their feet for a brief encore of Cream’s ‘Crossroads’. Their hero (who hasn’t broken sweat), merely waves his offhand thanks and disappears, leaving a legacy of cheers.”

Royal Albert Hall, London, UK – May 17th, 2011

Disc 1 (69:31):  Opening, Key To The Highway, Going Down Slow, Hoochie Coochie Man, Old Love, I Shot The Sheriff, Driftin’, Nobody Knows You When You’re Down And Out, Still Got The Blues, Same Old Blues, When Somebody Thinks You’re Wonderful, Layla

Disc 2 (46:06):  Badge, Wonderful Tonight, Tearing Us Apart, Little Queen Of Spades, Cocaine, Crossroads

Two months, four benefit appearances (three in New York and one in London) and several shows in the UK separate the end of the US tour in Los Angeles and the opening night at the Royal Albert Hall.  The touring band is the same as is the basics of the setlist.  The emphasis is upon old songs, covers, and only one from Clapton“River Runs Deep” is dropped in favor of the Gary Moore cover “Still Got The Blues” and “Tearing Us Apart” replacing “Before You Accuse Me.” 

The recording very good but has slight distance and noticeable echo which aids the live sound and atmosphere of the performance.  Regarding the performance, reviews ranged from calling this “a classic rock act at its Zenith” to accusing Clapton of “merely going through the motions.”

Regardless of one’s opinion, it is a slick performance of mostly well-known songs.  Clapton, as been his style, is willing to share the stage with excellent musicians and allow them to have highlights.  “Key To The Highway” starts off the show, followed by the slick “Going Down Slow.”

“Hoochie Coochie Man” is played in an up-tempo swinging arrangement reminiscent of “Can You Hear Me Calling.” 

After a twelve minute “Old Love” Clapton apologizes for playing for numbers in a row in the same key.  “I  Shot The Sheriff” sounds great despite a few errors in the solo.

The long acoustic “sit-down” set starts with “Driftin’.”  The Gary Moore cover “I Still Got The Blues” is a touching tribute for the recently deceased guitarist and appears in all three shows in this collection.  The audience grows restless during this part of the show, cheering mildly for the “Unplugged” version of “Layla.”

A great version of “Badge” is the first electric song after “Layla.”  Clapton pauses before the bridge, letting the feedback resound in the hall.  During “Wonderful Tonight” he changes “long blonde hair” to “long brown hair,” and for “Tearing Us Apart” Michelle John sings Tina Turner’s parts very well.

The ending two numbers, “Little Queen Of Spades” and “Cocaine” are both full of soloing between Clapton, Carmon and Stainton and is one of the marks of this tour.  The keyboards add much to the arrangements of the songs, pushing Clapton past the guitar god archetype so many want him to be again. 

Royal Albert Hall, London, UK – May 18th, 2011

Disc 3 (68:30):  Opening, Key To The Highway, Tell The Truth, Hoochie Coochie Man, Old Love, Tearing Us Apart, Driftin’, Nobody Knows You When You’re Down And Out, Still Got The Blues, Same Old Blues, When Somebody Thinks You’re Wonderful, Layla

Disc 4 (47:50):  Badge, Wonderful Tonight, Before You Accuse Me, Little Queen Of Spades, Cocaine, Crossroads

The recording for the second night is a bit closer to the action than the first.  The music is more sharp and clear and it has less echo.  It’s an enjoyable recording all around.  The manufacturers use a second tape source, the one which was posted online, to fill gaps in “Layla” and “Badge.”   

Fan reviews were more positive for this concert.  “Looking sprightly and exuding boundless energy, an obviously relaxed and happy EC was on excellent form throughout admirably demonstrating throughout the whole evening his genius for fluid, solid and impassioned playing and engaging happily with a very enthusiastic audience” is one comment.  

And another eyewitness writes, “The 2nd night of Eric’s residency saw vastly improved playing after the previous night’s offering. On the 17th I felt he look tired, playing well enough but just ‘going through the motions’. At the finale, he had raced off-stage without doing the classic ‘linked arms and bowing to the audience’ routine.  Wednesday was a different ball game with a changed set-list (but why no ‘Sheriff’?) and a sense of urgency in his playing. When a couple danced down the aisle to the front near the end of the show, that seemed to be a cue for the masses, proving EC DOES respond to an enthusiastic audience.”

“Key To The Highway” begins the set.  The first change of setlist occurs afterwards when they play the old Derek And The Dominos song “Tell The Truth” instead of “Going Down Slow.”  It’s a compact version compared to the 1970 and even the 2008 versions, but no less effective.  

“Hoochie Coochie Man” reverts back to the slower blues arrangement after the previous night’s experiment.  “Old Love” has an effective, building  guitar solo and the Carmon plays a reggae inspired solo on keyboards.  Afterwards they drop “I Shot The Sheriff” for “Tearing Us Apart,” which was played much later in the set on the 17th.  The August track has a scorching solo in the middle. 

The “sit-down” set is the same as the previous night, starting with “Driftin'” and ending with “Layla.”  The Gary Moore cover “I Still Got The Blues” is also played.  The audience grow a bit impatient, and at least one reviewer complains about the length of this section of the show and Carmon’s solo on “When Somebody Thinks Your Wonderful” which has “a horrible tone that reminded me of ‘I Do Like To Be Beside The Seaside.'”

The second half of the show starts off with “Badge.”  The only change in the setlist is “Before You Accuse Me” returning in place of “Tearing Us Apart.”  The gig ends strongly during “Cocaine.”  During the song a couple sneak up front and start dancing.  Clapton enjoyed the spectacle and laughs, and others join in the party which continues through “Crossroads.”

Royal Albert Hall, London, UK – May 20th, 2011

Disc 5 (70:00):  Opening, Key To The Highway, Tell The Truth, Hoochie Coochie Man, Old Love, Tearing Us Apart, Driftin’, Nobody Knows You When You’re Down And Out, Still Got The Blues, Same Old Blues, When Somebody Thinks You’re Wonderful, Layla

Disc 6 (46:02):  Badge, Wonderful Tonight, Before You Accuse Me, Little Queen Of Spades, Cocaine, Crossroads

After a night off Clapton returns for the third night.  The sound is excellent with a slightly louder echo than the first two nights.  It rounds out an excellent collection of audio documents of the first three RAH shows in 2011.

The second night was so successful that they play the exact same setlist and same arrangements.  “Tell The Truth,” “Tearing Us Apart” and “Before You Accuse Me” remain in the set and “I Shot The Sheriff” remains out.

The reviews of this show are similarly mixed as the other nights.  Some say it is a blistering show while others claim that Clapton was going through the motions and delivered an uninspired performance.  It is interesting, however, that they never really address his actual playing.  Rather, they make the claim based upon the presence of two keyboardists and the fact that Clapton rarely addresses the audience throughput the performance.

“To the several commentators who like to allude to EC of ‘not giving his all’ … ‘not being into it ‘ …’Just going through the motions’ … I would say ‘Rubbish!!’ (or words to that effect!) He doesn’t have to tour, he chooses to do so, he chooses his (top notch) musicians for a certain sound and he is as professional as they come.

“An old master delivering great stuff. This is a solid value gig. Plus, he really gets into his playing and certainly last night seemed to enjoy the whole experience and really appreciate the very warm and very full crowd. We loved him and he paid us back with great music. He brought new twists to old songs: an acoustic Layla and some new interesting intros to old songs.”

The performance is very tight and achieves a high level of excellence.  Despite the complaint about having too many keyboardists playing too many solos, one has to remember he always formed bands with the intention of letting them solo throughout the performance.  Assembling a band to perform good music is foremost, not showcasing Clapton’s talent to an already adoring crowd. 

The May 20th show lacks some of the warmth generated by the dancing couple on the 18th, but is no less enjoyable.  Royal Appointments is packaged in a fatboy jewel case holding the six discs in one set.  It is a great title full of wonderful performances worth having. 

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