Yes, friends, he showed: Eric Clapton sat in with the Allman Brothers Band on Night 8 of the 2009 Beacon Run. Loose, relaxed and all smiles, the guitar legend turned up part way through the second set and ripped up a six-song blowout run that consisted of Key to the Highway, Dreams, Why Does Love Got to Be So Sad, Little Wing, Anyday and finally, an emotional Layla encore.
The Beacon was batshit, of course, when Gregg stood and made the announcement, describing Clapton as someone who needed no introduction. Clapton himself was a graceful guest – he met the ABB and fit himself into what they were bringing, they didn’t meet him as some kind of de facto backing band. And to call the Clapton guest songs somewhat predictable is to be the ultimate in churlish – even though many of them were – and also takes away from the three-axe slide battles that pushed each into the stratosphere.
Dreams was the surprise choice; EC took the first solo and favored knotty, psychedelic threads, not getting too far out of his comfort zone but not exactly rolling over on the song with which he was ostensibly least familiar. He sang lead on the other five, uncorked some wild and tantalizing duels with both Derek and Warren throughout, and was generally looking like he was having a ball. Susan Tedeschi climbed aboard for a soaring Anyday, and it was good ol’ Danny Louis – who’d earlier added piano to a raunchy Good Morning Little Schoolgirl – who lead the way on the Layla coda.
I remain humbled by the way the ABB raises its game in general both at the Beacon and a particularly special night; one glance at the setlist for this show reveals EC’s appearance may have been – for all the pre-show speculation – the least surprising piece. Gregg was a howling, tortured force, and yet so tender on his Oncoming Traffic solo spot. Woman Across the River featured simply disgusting solos from both Warren and Derek, wringing great drama out of a song that for the past few years has been more of a placeholder than a showpiece. And you don’t jolt a crowd out of its comfortable ABB expectations much better than with a first set Whipping Post. It was Warren who took the first, nasty solo, messing with time signatures and tones for a solid 7-8 minutes, and Derek who pushed things into a roiling, emotional climax. Both guitarists had an A-night – Warren was a bit more deferential than Derek or even his usual self with Clapton onstage, but hardly reticent – and everything just hummed.
One of those nights, folks, to be thankful for.