You know how there are certain musicians you just want to tell to shut the hell up and play? Well, for me Eric Clapton and Phil Collins are two guys who pretty much top that list.
In Clapton's case, it's when he veers away from what he does best — playing the guitar — and tries to reach that "wider audience" record company execs talk about in their corporate boardroom meetings by making pop records with people like Babyface and Lionel Richie. And speaking of Lionel Richie, let's talk about his whiter eighties counterpart, one Mr. Phil Collins.
There was a time in said eighties that I was seriously convinced Collins had to be the Anti-christ. First he ruined Genesis, turning the once proud prog-rock pioneers into a hit machine complete with corny choreographed videos like the atrocious "I Can't Dance." And then there were those God-awful solo albums. Collins is still for my money one of the best drummers on earth. But I swear to God in heaven, for awhile there in the eighties I wanted nothing more than for Phil Collins to "Su-Su-Sussudio" right the hell off of my radio and my MTV.
So what happens when guys like this — great musicians that they are — simply do what they really do best and play? Well what can happen, and did happen in this particular case, is you get a really great concert like the one captured on the DVD Eric Clapton Live At Montreux 1986
Clapton's career at the time of this recording was on an upswing, and he was touring with a leaner, meaner band that not only included Collins on drums, but crack session guys Greg Phillinganes on keys and backing vocals, and bassist Nathan East (who remains with Clapton today). Touring between two of Clapton's eighties albums, Behind The Sun and August, the emphasis of the show was strictly on the music, and the performances here are nothing short of stellar.
The show kicks off with a couple of old chestnuts from Clapton's Cream days, "Crossroads" and "White Room." Here the performances are serviceable enough, but certainly nothing special (although the rearrangement of "Crossroads" is an interesting one). But by the third number, "I Shot The Sherriff" of all things, Clapton takes off on something of a guitar tear and basically never looks back for the rest of the concert.
With his very eighties (and very pre-metrosexual) bright orange shirt soaked in sweat, Clapton shows for all the world to see just why he has developed the reputation he has as one of rock's premier guitarists. Normally a master of understatement in the latter stages of his career, Clapton basically just lets it rip here. For his part, Collins drumming is equally frenetic, mixing plenty of Rastafarian flavored rim shots with his more trademarked mix of power and finesse.
I swear, "I Shot The Sherriff" never sounded so damn good. From there, several songs from the still unreleased August are previewed, including one that never made it to the actual record, "I Wanna Make Love To You" (which later did finally show up on Clapton's Crossroads box set).
Here Clapton is allowed to really stretch out his solos and there is some great improvisational interplay with Collins in particular. If you appreciate watching really great musicians the same way I do, this moment alone is worth the DVD's $15 price tag.
Later in the show they get back to the hits, and there is a nice segue way from "Badge" to "Let it Rain" which once again finds Clapton just soloing his ass off. From there, Collins gets his solo turn for "In The Air Tonight" and it proves to be a bit of a buzzkill. I'm sorry but as much as I love Collins the drummer, I loathe Collins the song and dance man.
As the show begins to wind to its inevitable close, the hits just keep on coming. A very tasty "Cocaine" is followed in short order by an absolutely blistering "Layla." Clapton begins his signature tune with a beautifully played slowed down bluesy intro and then tears into the song as though he were playing it for the very first time, rather than the thousands of nights and stages this classic rock staple has no doubt seen. Greg Phillinganes handles the keyboard parts of the songs second half so well you half expect to see Joe Pesci running out to claim his shinebox from Goodfellas.
And that's what happens when really great musicians like these guys just shut up and play.