[Slowhand] Mission Estate review

Woff woff at tpg.com.au
Sun Jan 28 21:39:06 EST 2007

Clapton was God but the crowd wanted karaoke

By SIMON SWEETMAN - The Dominion Post | Monday, 29 January 2007
Last year's Mission Estate concert (Chris de Burgh and Olivia
Newton-John) left a bitter taste in the mouths of many who had paid for
tickets before the lacklustre acts had even been announced. *

Desperate to avoid further backlash, organisers were quick to announce
that one of the world's most famous guitarists – a man once known as God
and nicknamed Slowhand for his distinctive, laidback approach to
presenting blues – would be this year's marquee name.

It was also Eric Clapton's first visit to New Zealand since he blew my
mind as a teenager in Auckland in 1990. I paid to see him then and made
the pilgrimage – just as I paid for the privilege this time thanks to
the attempts of the concert promoter to ban me from reviewing the show.

Last year's drunken embarrassment of an audience was replaced by a
calmer crowd, I think occasional afternoon showers and a percentage of
keen music fans replaced the usual beer-fest attitude – and thankfully
so. But still, the annual Mission concert (this, the 15th) is a bizarre
hybrid of musical performance and rural party flock in Hawke's Bay.

This year we were treated to a class act – and though the circumstances
were different, I came away feeling that, as with Chris de Burgh last
year, on the whole, Clapton was not treated with respect.

There were people keen to hear Tears in Heaven and Lay Down Sally –
ghastly songs that have no place in any decent performance.

The first five songs were taken from the 1970 masterpiece, Layla and
Other Assorted Love Songs, credited to the band Derek and the Dominoes
(Clapton's attempt at hiding from the spotlight). Having participated in
a Cream reunion two years ago, the man behind the signature, piercing
Stratocaster tone is clearly enjoying revisiting his early career
highlights and nudging his blues pedigree back to the fore.

His version of Jimi Hendrix's Little Wing was sublime, a widescreen epic
with tour-de-force jamming between Clapton, left- hander Doyle Bramhall
II and young slide virtuoso Derek Trucks.

It was immediately apparent that this concert didn't just feature one of
the world's greatest guitarists; in fact we were being treated to three
of the best.

A sit-down acoustic set had Clapton offering Robert Johnson's Driftin'
Blues as a solo piece, and then returning to the Layla album for Nobody
Knows You When You're Down and Out to whoops and hollers from the front
section of the audience.

The rowdy regulars on the bank weren't so noisy this year.

Large sections of the crowd seemed indifferent to the magical interplay
between funky bassist Willie Weeks, master drummer Steve Jordan and the
three-pronged guitar attack.

It was a shame that so many just wanted a karaoke singalong, when pure
blues class was being poured out on tap.

Running on Faith provided a happy ballad moment with gospel- derived
backing vocals and some searing slide guitar. And Motherless Children
from 1974's 461 Ocean Boulevard was another rare gem. After the 12-bar
boogie of Further On Up the Road (restored to his live set after taking
a break since the late 1970s) the crowd finally got to test their pipes
on Wonderful Tonight.

It was ironic that so many wanted to hear one of the world's best
guitarists simply sing, and then when he did, the crowd did its best to
drown him out.

Layla got the bank to its feet and the encores of Cocaine and Cream's
version of Crossroads should have sent the crowd home elated.

But there were, sadly, many people who wanted to sing along to cheesy
mid-90s dross and the early 70s radio hits.

What a waste. But hey, I paid the money and I got to see a living legend
return to his former glories.

Clapton, as far as I'm concerned, is still God.

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