Eric Clapton – Welcome Back Andy (no label)

Welcome Back Andy (no label)
RAH, London, UK – May 16&17, 2009

Discs1&3. Going Down Slow – Anything For Your Love – Key To The Highway – Old Love – I Shot The Sheriff – Layla – Lay Down Sally – Not Dark Yet – Anytime For You – Somewhere Over The Rainbow.
Discs2&4. Badge – Little Queen Of Spades – Before You Accuse Me – Wonderful Tonight – Cocaine – Crossroads.

After a three-year hiatus, EC returned to the RAH last May for a series of 11 shows from May 16th until May 31th. “Welcome Back Andy”  is the first release to surface from this run and is an excellent document of EC’s first two shows. This stint takes place two months after EC’s Winter Tour of Japan, New Zealand and Australia, and prior to it, EC had played 3 dates in Dublin (May 11th), Manchester (May 13th) and Liverpool (May 14th).

Doyle Bramhall II is no longer part of the band now but opens for EC as a part of the reunited Arc Angels along with Charlie Sexton and Chris Layton. Having been more than a decade apart, the band entered the studio to record new stuff and are supposed to release a live album followed by a US Tour in the Summer.  Doyle is replaced by EC’s long time friend Andy Fairweather-Low, hence the title of this release. Also, Steve Gadd replaces Abe Laboriel Jr. on drums and a second keyboard player – Tim Carmon – joins the band too. The rest of the band remains unchanged, that is Willie Weeks on bass, Chris Stainton on keyboards and Michelle John and Sharon White on backing vocals.

With changes in the band, changes in the setlist are predictable too. Gone are most of the Dominos songs, but we get fantastic surprises such as Anything For Your Love (if memory serves me, not peformed live since the US Summer Tour of 1992), a sublime cover of Bob Dylan’s Not Dark Yet, Somewhere Over The Rainbow (acknowledgedly a favourite tune of EC’s, which was used to close the shows from the Reptile World Tour back in 2001) and Big Maceo Merriweather’s Anytime For You (originally written by Dan Howell).

Identical setlists for the first two nights, the shows open with extended versions of Going Down Slow, performed  much in the same arrangement as in 2001, but EC’s guitar work is now much more prominent, which is more than welcome! Anything For Your Love is brilliant on both nights, with fluid guitar leads. Key To The Highway, the only Dominos tune – apart from the obvious Layla – to survive the Winter Tour follows. This is the first opportunity for Andy, Chris and Tim to share the spotlight with EC.

Old Love, absent from the setlists since the Japan Tour of 2006, is back for everyone’s enjoyment. EC’s solos are impressive and even Tim Carmon’s high-pitched solos on the second half of the song sound good, though I still see that as a lost opportunity for us to have more soloing from EC instead. Both nights’ Sheriffs – which regained their guitar intros after the Winter Tour – are absolute standouts. 

At this point on the first night EC says “Hello again! Nice to be back…. It takes me half an hour of playing before I get the nerve to talk, you know. Good evening to my girls… Good evening girls!!” – alluding to his wife and daughters who were in attendance – but he gets a massive response from the audience and then jokingly replies “I didn’t know I had so many!”.

The acoustic set is full of surprises. None of the following songs were performed in the Winter Tour, which means EC did take this stint at the Albert Hall very seriously and not just as a formality. Layla a la unplugged is the first course of an excellent dinner. Lay Down Sally had not been performed on a regular basis on a tour since 1996, and it works really fine in the acoustic setting… but my favourite song has to be the cover of Bob Dylan’s Not Dark Yet, a sad tune that is really moving  and does touch me very deeply in my emotions. If that was not enough, EC’s guitar solo right before the last verse on the first night gets to literally break my heart. Superb. The set continues with the classic blues number Anytime For You and wraps up with an EC-enhanced version of Somewhere Over The Rainbow, the song that was written to The Wizard Of Oz. 

EC plugs his guitar back for the remainder of the show, which includes Badge – no matter how many times I listen to this song, I will always love it!! – Before You Accuse Me, Wonderful Tonight and Cocaine – with extended keyboard solos by Tim Carmon and Chris Stainton on the second half of it. The encore consists of Crossroads only which again features solos from EC on guitar and Tim Carmon on keyboards.

As for the performances is concerned, both are good but the first night sounds better than the second one and that makes it my favourite. The Albert Hall is not the best venue to get stunning recordings but “Welcome Back Andy” is a good document of EC’s first two gigs there in 2009 that is worth having if only for the excellent covers of Not Dark Yet.

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