Because Live in San Diego captures a seasoned road ensemble at the peak of its powers, led by an iconic musician clearly inspired to nearly his highest level of playing, this DVD of Eric Clapton’s, issued to coincide with the archetypal guitar hero’s appearances at Madison Square Garden, may cast something of an unintentionally negative light on those New York shows.
It’s an effect eerily similar to that which arose in the wake of releasing the double CD audio counterpart last September, just four short months after a studio album, I Still Do: produced by the same man, Glyn Johns, who oversaw the arguable zenith of Clapton’s solo career, Slowhand, that record had hardly the same response in the contemporary marketplace.Being able to visually observe this near-decade old concert recording ratifies the
Being able to visually observe this near-decade old concert recording ratifies the crackling energy generated by this 2007 lineup, the most guitar heavy ensemble Clapton’s ever had. Finding his own level within this talented triumvirate including Derek Trucks and Doyle Bramhall II dramatically elevates Eric’s own level of playing right from the start on “Tell the Truth.” And the extent of his overall concentration is obvious, not just during his solos, but also when he surrenders the spotlight to one of his fretboard partners: as on “Anyday,” he remains fully engaged in his supporting role.
The generally emotive and often feverish vocal delivery of Eric himself is one of the real highlights here as on “Little Queen of Spades. ” Besides Bramhall’s own bristling instrument interplay with Clapton and Trucks, noticeably balanced during this upbeat arrangement of “Key to the Highway,” he also lends husky vocals at various points, an example of an elevated level of democratic imagination brought to bear on arrangements of this choice material.
Equally representative of the vintage tunes included during the course of this two hour concert is “Got to Get Better in A Little While,” another selection from the days of Derek & the Dominos, suffused with syncopation via the bass solo from Willie Weeks and drummer Steve Jordan’s percussion interlude. Freed from the necessity to reinforce the frontman’s own singing—a measure of his marked improvement in singing over the years despite the lack of a distinctive voice–Michelle John and Sharon White’s vocals are as angelic as they are haunting on “Little Wing,” another cull from Layla And Other Assorted Love Songs.
The title song of that iconic album benefits from the delicate intricacy of Trucks’ slide, especially on the tune’s famous coda. Meanwhile, Robert Cray aids in hearkening back to Clapton’s days in Cream, with “Crossroads,” but, to his great credit, this contemporary bluesman finds a place for himself in the guitar corps, refusing to allow himself to become superfluous even as this encore builds to a frenzied conclusion.
Customary staples of Eric Clapton’s stage repertoire in the form of “After Midnight” and “Cocaine” receive a tangible freshening on Live in San Diego via the extended presence of J. J. Cale. The author of those two songs, the latter of which provides a bridge back to the full band after what amounts to a mini-set in which he appears, shares an easygoing intimacy with Clapton somewhat belying its passion (reaffirmed in the bonus footage of the two rehearsing); the director, Martyn Atkins, who also worked on films of EC’s Crossroads Guitar Festivals, captures the drama intrinsic to this intense musicianship as well as its warm fraternity.
Sans sit-ins, the core ensemble gathers steam in the homestretch, not surprisingly on some familiar blues paced with a glowing, country-ish take on “Wonderful Tonight.” “Further On Up the Road” and “Motherless Children” appear in a shared instrumental offensive, with keyboardists Tim Carman and former Joe Cocker sideman Chris Stainton supplying color and freeing the guitarists from undue rhythm support, that’s much more aggressive compared to the overly commercial approach that has often drained the fire from Eric Clapton’s work over the years, proving once again this man needs a genuine challenge to ascend to perform at his all around best.
Because Live in San Diego fully captures that rare occurrence, this video, like it’s audio counterpart, should be ranked as one of the most powerful concert recordings of what’s now a fifty-year plus career.