Eric Clapton - guitar / vocals
Nathan East - bass / vocals
Steve Gadd - drums
Doyle Bramhall - guitar / vocals
Chris Stainton - keyboards
Paul Carrack - organ / keyboards / vocals
Katie Kissoon - vocals
Sharon White - vocals
02. Key to the Highway
03. Hoochie Coochie Man
04. I Shot The Sheriff
05. Driftin Blues
06. Circus Left Town
07. Nobody Knows You When You're Down and Out
08. Tears in Heaven
10. Holy Mother
12. Little Queen of Spades
14. Before You Accuse Me (encore)
Review sent to Where's Eric! by Ed Masley / Arizona Republic
Concert review: Eric Clapton reminds us what 'Clapton is God' was all about in Phoenix
Phoenix was one of only three U.S. dates Eric Clapton performed in 2019 as a lead-in to his annual Crossroads festival in Dallas.
And it marked his first appearance in the Valley since 2013.
So the sense that we were seeing something special Saturday at Talking Stick Resort Arena was already a given.
Then he strolled on stage with a wave in his blazer and blue jeans, grabbed a guitar and proceeded to remind us how he came to be one of the more revered guitarists in the history of rock and roll, leading a stellar assortment of backing musicians in a set that put the focus squarely on the former Bluesbreaker's long-standing love of the blues.
It's been 52 years since some young artist with a love of British blues guitar and a can of spray paint first suggested that "Clapton is God" on the wall of the Islington Underground station. And after countless tours and three inductions to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, Clapton proved that he's still got the chops to inspire that kind of devotion, if the audience reaction to some of his flashier moments in Saturday's concert is any indication.
After setting the tone with "Pretending" from 1989's "Journeyman" album, Clapton dove into the blues with an epic performance of "Key to the Highway," a standard he first recorded in 1970 with Derek and the Dominos, following through with a swaggering version of "I'm Your Hoochie Coochie Man," a Willie Dixon classic most often associated with Muddy Waters.
This was Clapton in his comfort zone, graciously sharing the spotlight with his sidemen, including guitarist Doyle Bramhall II and the great Paul Carrack, whose organ work was never less than stunning.
By this point in the set, it was clear that Clapton at 74 was in excellent form on vocals, growling "I'm Your Hoochie Coochie Man" with real conviction, and still has plenty of fire in his fretwork despite what the naysayers like to say about that having faded not long after he pleaded "I don't want to fade away" on the chorus of "Bell Bottom Blues" at the dawn of the '70s.
He followed "I'm Your Hoochie Coochi Man" with his biggest U.S. single of the '70s, a chart-topping cover of Bob Marley's "I Shot the Sheriff," which featured some really nice phrasing on guitar and vocals, before pulling up a chair for a four-song unplugged set that put the focus on his finger-picking style.
"Driftin' Blues" was a subdued but brilliant introduction to that portion of the concert, giving way to a sweetly soulful "Circus" and a version of "Nobody Knows You When You're Down and Out" that seemed to play up that song's ragtime flavor more than the aching rendition he captured on "Layla and Other Assorted Love Songs."
That unplugged portion ended with a song you had to know was coming, the Grammy-winning smash that made his "Unplugged" album such a huge pop-culture moment, "Tears in Heaven," recast Friday with a subtle reggae undercurrent.
The concert may have peaked for many fans when Clapton plugged back in for "Badge," a Cream song he and George Harrison wrote (with a little help from their friend, Ringo Starr). That pregnant pause before the riff that ushers in the section that begins with "Yes, I told you that the light goes up and down" could not have done a better job of building tension for the glorious release that followed.
After dusting off a haunting "Holy Mother" that featured a soaring melodic guitar lead, he revisited his Cream days with "Cross Road Blues," a Robert Johnson classic that became a staple of the British power trio's live show in the '60s, renamed "Crossroads" on their "Wheels of Fire" album.
A second Johnson cover, "Little Queen of Spades," stretched out for nearly 15 minutes as Clapton and his sidemen took turns in the spotlight, including yet another awe-including Carrack solo and Chris Stainton, a veteran of Joe Cocker's Mad Dogs & Englishmen Tour, rising to the moment on piano with an outrageous solo that felt more like classical music gone mad than anything one might associate with Robert Johnson.
The concert could've ended on that high note, but instead, he dusted off another of his most iconic moments, an impassioned "Layla," giving Stainton one more chance to shine on the piano coda with Bramhall doing all he could to fill in for the late Duane Allman on those classic slide guitar lines.
He's really put together quite a backing band, including legendary drummer Steve Gadd, bassist Nathan East and backup singers Sharon White and Katie Kissoon (who took devil straight to church on "Cross Road Blues".
They were joined on the encore – another Clapton staple, his take on Bo Diddley's "Before You Accuse Me" – by guitarist Jimmie Vaughan, who turned in a powerful opening set with his own assortment of stellar musicians, including organ, upright bass, trombone and sax.
Early in the set, Vaughan said he planned to "play a little blues for you," and that's exactly what he did, from the title track to his new album, "Baby, Please Come Home," to "No One to Talk to But the Blues" and "Texas Flood," the title track to the first album by Stevie Ray Vaughan, the kid brother he lost in a 1990 helicopter crash.
I don't believe I've ever seen a trombone solo draw a more ecstatic crowd response in an arena. And Vaughan is a crowd-pleasing bandleader, playing guitar behind his hand and giving his organ player a turn on vocals on one of their more entertaining songs, "The Crawl."
It was a great set and a perfect way to warm a crowd up for what Clapton had in mind.
[Published with permission of author. See accompanying photo gallery at https://www.azcentral.com/story/entertainment/music/2019/09/15/concert-review-eric-clapton-remains-guitar-god-tour-hits-phoenix/2333136001/]