Several years ago, Mike and I made a list of bands and musicians we want to make sure we see live, and we’ve been trying to check them off ever since. We’ve put a particular emphasis on the, shall I say, “senior legends.” Basically, the ones who might stop touring because they’re old. We’ve seen some amazing performers over the years, like The Rolling Stones, Fleetwood Mac, Billy Joel, Willie Nelson, Brian Wilson, The Police, Paul McCartney (Mike has seen Paul like 87 times), and our most recent concert, Eric Clapton.
Eric Clapton is a rock & roll icon and a Guitar God. He also rarely tours anymore. I assumed that was because 1) he’s old, 2) he’s already rich, and 3) he has peripheral neuropathy, which makes playing the guitar much harder and more painful for him. But after going to his concert last week, I realized that the answer is probably a little bit of 1, 2, and 3, but mostly I think he doesn’t tour because he appears to hate it.
I honestly didn’t even know if Clapton would go on the stage at all. We were originally supposed to see him in March, but the concert was canceled at the last minute because Clapton was sick. I expected the rescheduled concert to be canceled, too, but I was pleasantly surprised when I met Mike at the Forum in Los Angeles for the concert. We were as far away from the stage as you could get – literally the last row, straight back – but I told Mike it wasn’t a big deal because it’s not like Clapton has dancers or anything. “We’re just here to listen to him play.”
Clapton said literally the same two words to the audience the entire night. “Thank you.” Thank you when he got on stage, thank you after each song, thank you at the end of the night. That’s it. No interaction with the audience. No, “Sorry I had to reschedule,” or “Hi Los Angeles,” or even, “Thank you, Los Angeles.” In all of my life, I’ve never been to a concert where the performer didn’t interact with the audience in some way. That includes perpetual grump Bob Dylan. Even the costumed Yo Gabba Gabba characters showed more life than Clapton.
However, you go to a concert for the music, not the scintillating conversation. So I ignored Clapton’s quiet and watched him while he played. His hands flew over the guitar frets, and his fingers truly danced on the strings. There was no sign of the pain his hands must surely feel with every note. It was incredible to hear him play “Layla,” “White Room,” and “Wonderful Tonight,” (I went to the bathroom during “Tears in Heaven” because I avoid that song at all costs).
But the thing that really got me was his expression. He didn’t look like he was enjoying himself at all. The only time he smiled was when he finished the last song, and it was a smile of relief.
Maybe he’s not someone who visibly enjoys performing? He sounded great, and his backing band was amazingly talented. It was just hard to watch the show and not feel like we were hugely inconveniencing him. He looked like he wanted to be anywhere but on stage. It wasn’t even close to the worst concert I’ve ever been to, but it didn’t leave me with the awe I was expecting…which I suppose is my own problem, not Clapton’s.
And I got a night out with Mike! That was easily my favorite part.
Judy Moticka says:
If you get the chance, be sure to see Bruce Springsteen. Amazing concerts and he loves every minute of it.
I saw Dylan in concert last winter and he didn’t say a single word the whole time. Agree that it was weird and a little off-putting. I mean, I get that I should be grateful just to be in the same vicinity as such a legend, but geez!
That’s odd. Admittedly, I haven’t been to that many concerts, but still, that’s just…odd. I loved the Billy Joel concerts I’ve been to, and Huey Lewis and the News comes every two years to a small local venue near us and they put on a fantastic show- you can tell he still loves performing, which does make it more fun for the audience. I think that lack of enjoyment would make me a little uncomfortable, especially for how much tix cost.
Perhaps his old cocaine (and other drugs) days are now catching up with him. Shame on me, because I’ve always liked his music. Well, most of it.
Jen L. says:
Aww, I love Eric Clapton and have him seen him three times. The first time I saw him was 1992 with Elton John at Dodger Stadium. It was amazing!! He must just be old because I could have sworn he engaged with the audience the times I saw him.
I was at that show!!!! My boss at the time got me 2nd row seats as a bonus.
We saw Clapton 10+ years ago at the Honda Center or maybe it’s the Arrowhead center now? Anyway pretty much the same he didn’t say much at all but his music is amazing so I’ll cut him some slack on the personality. We did see Vince Gill at Irvine Meadows and he waved at the beginning, said keep it going and keep it country, and gave the audience a wave when he left. That was it. The only reason I remember what he said is my girlfriends and I thought it was so weird will still say it too each other all the time 18 years later!! I highly recommend Rod Stewart if you like his music and if he ever tours again – so much fun.
I have to admit that at an Eric Clapton concert, back in the 90’s, I actually fell asleep! There were only so many guitar riffs I have the ability to handle. I’m not proud of it, but I marked him off my list and moved on to other bands.
We saw Ray LaMontagne about ten years ago and had a similar experience. He looked so painfully shy, like just singing his songs in front of us was hurting him. For the entire show.
Yes! I’ve seen him a few times live, and there was one time here in LA where barely said a word. Still an amazing musician, but I left that particular show feeling like I’d just listened to his CDs on a high-def system.
Pretty sad I didn’t see you at Clapton bc I was there too. I thought it was so weird. After every song I thought, and now he’s going to say SOMETHING. But….nope. He was still great and when he did plays TIH he had this weird slightly upbeat melody to it that added another element of weird to the evening. But maybe that’s what he has to do to get through the song. I agree on Bruce. It’s a special event.
Kim Potter Tuverson says:
Clapton doesn’t need to speak, his guitar does all the talking! I’ve been a fan since the Cream days and he has never cease to amaze me with his playing. He’s one of the best! I was at the Forum Wednesday night, the first night of the rescheduled concert. It’s my understanding that this is his last tour so I’m glad I finally got the opportunity to see him live.
I saw Eric Clapton when he toured Australia about 10 years ago and had the same experience. Love his music but didn’t love him or his concert -it was such a let down after growing up listening to his music
I saw Eric Clapton at Dodger Stadium a million years ago – He was really good. I’m sorry you didn’t get to see that version of him.
My worst concert? Paul Simon at the Hollywood Bowl. Literally the same feeling as you had during Clapton – when is he going to talk? He didn’t even say Thank You after each song. At the Hollywood Bowl!!!! So disappointing. Even if you are there to hear the music, you still want some kind of engagement. (Listen to your commenter above – if you haven’t seen Bruce Springsteen, you absolutely must!)
So what *was* the worst show you’ve been to then?