Over the course of his legendary career, Eric Clapton has produced so many live albums – between the likes of Cream, Derek and the Dominoes, and of course his many concert documents as a solo artist – that it’s easy to lose track of them all. Some of these have been pretty great, while others perhaps not so much.
Among these too numerous to count live recordings, one that has always stood out among the best, is the now barely remembered 1970 live album Delaney & Bonnie & Friends On Tour With Eric Clapton. Clapton wasn’t even the star attraction here (his name was probably added to the title in order to ship a few more units).
But performing somewhat out of the spotlight, as a sideman in Delaney & Bonnie Bramlett’s high-octane, southern R&B revue, brought out some of the best live performances of his career up to that point. Clapton particularly seemed to jell with the rhythm section of bassist Carl Radle and drummer Jim Gordon, as well as with keyboardist Bobby Whitlock. The chemistry there was apparently so good, he stole them away to form Derek and the Dominoes and record the classic album Layla.
On the new concert DVD Planes, Trains And Eric, Clapton taps into that same energy nearly 45 years later, and captures magic in a bottle once again. Not surprisingly, the band seems to have everything to do with it. While this DVD presents itself as more of a documentary style film chronicling Clapton’s 2014 tour of the Mid and Far East (including his 200th concert in Japan), it is the 13 full-length live performances featured here, rather than the interviews and backstage footage, that makes this one a real keeper.
The recording quality is so pristine, that it literally puts you front row center, and this particularly compliments the rhythm section. Nathan East’s bass rumbles like thunder, and you hear every cymbal crash and snare crack of Steve Gadd’s drums clear as a bell. The two studio veterans lay down a thick, funky groove throughout, serving as the foundation for several soaring Clapton solos.
The usual Eric Clapton standards – “Layla,” “I Shot The Sheriff,” “Wonderful Tonight” and the rest – are all here, and hearing them yet again is perhaps a bit redundant.
But what sets Planes Trains And Eric apart from other live Clapton recordings, and makes this DVD a must-have, is how this particular band seems to have lit a fire under him. His solos on songs like “Pretending” and Robert Johnson’s “Little Queen Of Spades” bring to mind the Clapton of old, and the one that quite frankly, we haven’t heard enough from recently. The latter also features a fabulous keyboard exchange between former Joe Cocker bandmate Chris Stainton and Paul Carrack (best known as the voice behind Squeeze’s “Tempted” and one-hit wonder Ace’s “How Long”).
Speaking of Joe Cocker, the band also summons the spirit of his Mad Dogs And Englishmen period with Leon Russell, performing a ferocious cover of “High Time We Went,” highlighted by Carrack’s spot-on vocal. Unfortunately, all you get is the audio performance (no video). However, it sounds so good that it’s worth sticking around for the credits roll.
Eric Clapton’s Planes, Trains And Eric, from Eagle Rock Entertainment, will be out on DVD and Blu-ray on November 4.
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