NEW ORLEANS — Eric Clapton opened his Saturday night show at the New Orleans Arena with the rolling, welcoming folk-pop of “Hello Old Friend.”
A British singer-guitarist who’s been famous since the 1960s, Clapton obviously had many fans in the full arena who regard him as an old friend. The music he made –– as a solo act and member of Cream, Blind Faith, Derek and the Dominos, Delaney and Bonnie and more –– accompanied them through decades of their lives.
Clapton’s New Orleans show is a stop on his 2013 world tour. In characteristically understated style, the tour and his 21st album, “Old Sock,” come in his 50th anniversary year as a professional musician. The audience showed its appreciation for Clapton, who’ll be 68 on March 30, often during the two hour and 20-minute show. They stood when he performed beloved songs. They cheered when close-ups of his swift left-hand finger work appeared on the two big video screens on each side of the stage.
Clapton and an eight-member group including guitarist Doyle Bramhall II, pedal steel guitarist Greg Leisz and singer-keyboardist Paul Carrack sampled his vast catalog and played selections from the just-released “Old Sock.”
Sometimes accused of lacking fervor, Clapton followed the mellow “Hello Old Friend” with a passionate performance of the reggae-inflected “My Father’s Eyes.” The energy continued with the soulful blues-rock of “Tell the Truth,” a song from Clapton’s days with Derek and the Dominos, featuring Duane Allman.
In “Gotta Get Over,” a rocking new song from “Old Sock,” Clapton bent strings high on his guitar’s neck as fluently as he did in 1968, when Cream, the power trio that made him a star, was sitting on top of the music world.
Clapton used “I Shot the Sheriff,” the Bob Marley song that he got a hit single with in 1974, as another opportunity to unleash his inner guitar god.
One of Clapton’s multiple artistic reinventions came with his 1992 album, “Unplugged.” Nine songs into his New Orleans show, he sat down with an acoustic guitar for more wow-inducing solos, a charming “Nobody Knows You When You’re Down & Out,” a touching “Tears in Heaven” and, quite apart from his guitar prowess, his great love song, “Wonderful Tonight.”
Clapton was the star of the show, but he shared his light. Bramhall played several impressive guitar solos. It was a treat when Carrack sang and played organ for “Tempted” and “How Long,” a pair of blue-eyed soul classics he recorded with Squeeze and Ace respectively.
As the show wound down, Clapton and ensemble played a climactic “Crossroads.” In comparison, the subsequent “Cocaine” and “Sunshine of Your Love” seemed obligatory.
Bookending a show that began with “Hello Old Friend,” Joe Cocker’s “High Time We Went,” sung by Carrack, closed this overwhelmingly splendid Clapton concert.
The Wallflowers, reunited and revitalized following lead singer Jakob Dylan’s solo excursions, opened the concert with a 40-minute set featuring their hits and songs from the band’s 2012 album, “Glad All Over.”
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