[Slowhand] Review by Selvin

Mel Boss darmel at sbcglobal.net
Tue Mar 20 22:03:41 EDT 2007

Joel Selvin (for the SFChronicle) trashed the Eric Clapton band again this time around for what I regarded as certainly one of the best performances I've ever seen - HPPavilion, San Jose on Sunday night.

In so many ways, I regarded this performance as "perfect." I loved the setlist. There was excellent balance therein. The same balance carried over into the performances of the individuals relative to the band as a whole. Everyone got a chance to shine w/o being "too much." Even Tim Carmon, who is not my favorite stayed somewhat subdued. It's not that I don't like his synthesizer, it's just that sometimes he doesn't know when to quit - like in Old Love, which was swapped out in Sunday night's setlist. The backing vocal sung by Michelle John and Sharon White were quite excellent. Bravo! I was pretty critical of them in 2004, and this time, I thoroughly enjoyed them.

And it was great to get together with our Slowhand friends in the Bay Area, Rick, Betsy, Jan, Greg and Cathy and great to finally meet Steve Proctor (and girlfriend).

Joel's article can be viewed here if you care to - http://sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?f=/c/a/2007/03/19/DDG1MONR8Q22.DTL

I wrote him to relate how I felt about it - very therapeutic actually. Here is that letter.

Mel Boss

My friend Betsy referred to your Clapton concert review three years ago (in a letter to you) as “dyspeptic,” which you surely enjoyed, and I would suggest that for the next Clapton concert in two or three years that you should just take a Tums and stay home. I can’t imagine why you, mired in the past glory of Cream, attend since you don’t like Clapton’s evolution as an artist.

It was as though your Sunday’s review was written on Saturday afternoon, for your mind is made and the show that you reviewed was not the same one I witnessed – a show that emphasized balance. This ultra-tight, (young) Clapton-band has been on tour since early May, and it is arguably the best band he has ever assembled. If you knew today’s Clapton, you would know him to be a humble, confident man demonstrated by his sharing of the spotlight and his evolution from “rock & roll god” to mentor and bandleader.

As such, balance was emphasized over self-promotion in Sunday night’s show.

Doyle Bramhall II has toured with the Clapton-band for 5 or 6 years now, and has come a long way in that time. The hot, young Derek Trucks has been a stirring addition to the band in conjuring the spirit of the late Duane Allman, particularly, for the Derek and the Dominos songs in the set. Willie Weeks played in blistering fashion and has added some new intensity to the bass lines this tour. Chris Stainton was on fire with his keyboard piano solos throughout the set but most notably on “Little Queen
.” The backing singers Michelle John and Sharon White, who I criticized in the 2004 tour, were superb on Sunday night adding just the right amount of harmony and fill. And then there was Tim Carmon (not Corman as you wrote - jeez); his synthesizer contributions were blessedly restrained this time.

The setlist showed balance as well - having been tweaked and refined over the past year from a pool of nearly thirty songs to its current state. The recent swap-out of “Old Love” and “Anyday” for “Why Does Love Got to Be So Sad” and “Little Wing,” the former not performed in something like 30 years, was performed Sunday night with style and finesse! Other stand-out songs in the setlist for me were “Got to Get Better
,” “Motherless Children,” “Little Queen” and “Further Up the Road.”

The sit-down, acoustic set in the middle is a tasty technique that Clapton (the band leader) has employed since the Pilgrim tour to bring some variety and variance to the high-energy electric numbers. Your review ignored Clapton’s beautiful “Drinftin” solo-onstage performance. To my knowledge, “Outside Woman Blues” has not been performed by Clapton since his Creams days, and this funky, acoustic version works very well. “Nobody Knows You,” is always a treat, and this version of “Running on Faith” was the best I’ve ever heard him perform.

Again, the priority is balance.

Where you regard Clapton’s performance as lazy and bored, I see a mature, confident, humble mentor/artist. I thought that Clapton’s guitar solos on Sunday were refined, emotional and intense demonstrating balance “just right” for the night. Everyone in the band got the opportunity to shine Sunday night, and this variety kept the setlist engaging to the audience. It was never boring.

You say Clapton’s hallmark period was nearly forty years ago during the Cream years. The Cream years were relatively brief in time, and their performances were often rambling, though very engaging, 30-minute jams sessions plagued with personal conflict and youngster-angst and drugs that all contributed to the band’s early demise. I regard his 1994/5 “Nothing But the Blues” tour to be his most skillful and thoughtful, humble, mature and pure. Debate over Clapton’s pinnacle period is debatable for certain in that ten 15 opinions will emerge from 20 fans polled, and I know at least one friend who would argue with you (forever) that Eric’s John Mayall, Bluesbreakers time was the best!

But most disturbing, Joel, I regard your continuous berating of Eric Clapton’s work and performances over the years as disingenuous. You revel in your contrariness and seek attention rather than the axioms of good journalism. Sad. You are so unlike the man you have rebuked and disparaged over the years.

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