English guitarist Eric Clapton kicked off his Saturday show in Detroit with an instrumental performance of “God Save the Queen”, in a reverent tribute to Queen Elizabeth II two days after her death.
He led a 17-song night that went through the great guitarist’s catalog for a near-full crowd at Little Caesars Arena. At 77, his fingers were nimble and his game flexible despite a series of health issues he has publicly spoken about in recent years, including neuropathy which almost forced him into retirement several years ago.
Saturday was his first visit to Detroit since 2010, and it was part of a five-city U.S. run this month, in keeping with the short bursts of touring that marked Clapton’s workrate. Last fall he played another short string of dates in the United States, his first shows since the pandemic – during which he had been one of the music world’s most vocal anti-lockdown advocates.
On Saturday’s no-frills, lit stage, Clapton served up his distinct licks and Stratocaster tones joined by a band that included several longtime backing vocalists. They had the opportunity to put their own musical stamp on the proceedings, with guitarist Doyle Bramhall II contributing his own solos throughout and Chris Stainton smashing on electric piano during the band’s “The Sky is Crying” showcase.
The ensemble was rounded out by keyboardist-vocalist Paul Carrack, bassist Nathan East, drummer Sonny Emory and backing vocalist Sharon White. (Her vocal partner Katie Kissoon was absent on Saturday for no reason.)
The set offered a roundup of the different musical personalities Clapton adopted over the years: the blues-loving guitar hero (“I’m Your Hoochie Coochie Man,” “Cross Road Blues”), the pioneer of groovy acid-rock (“Badge” from Cream), tender balladeur (“River of Tears”), heavyweight of the album-rock of the 70s (“I Shot the Sheriff”), hitmaker from the 90s (“Tears in Heaven”).
A seated segment gave Clapton a chance to work his thing on his Martin acoustic guitars, with “Layla” receiving the laid-back treatment and “Tears in Heaven” interspersed with a bit of Procul Harum’s “Whiter Shade of Pale” – presumably a tribute to Clapton’s longtime friend Gary Brooker, who died in February.
“Wonderful Tonight” offered its obligatory singing moment for couples inside LCA, while “Cocaine” closed the regular set with one of Saturday’s rare gritty guitar sizzle moments.
Carrack, the well-traveled singer best known for his work with Squeeze and Mike + the Mechanics, took over lead vocals for the encore, a spirited rendition of “High Time We Went” which saw show opener Jimmie Vaughan join guitar festivities.
Given Clapton’s age, his reduced tour and his last 12-year gap between Detroit dates, it’s conceivable that Saturday will be the last Motor City gig of his career. If that turns out to be the case, fans will remember it as a warm, likeable, and reliably well-executed send-off.
Contact Detroit Free Press Music Writer Brian McCollum: 313-223-4450 or [email protected]