Royal Albert Hall, London, England
10th May 2004

Review by : Saurav Dutt

Old slow-hand' proved himself to be anything but when he took to the stage at the Royal Albert Hall for the latest date in his world-renowned residencies on Monday night (May 10, 2004).Eric Clapton, guitar legend, may have ambled his way towards the sell-out crowd, but his set was anything but lethargic, deftly combining the best of his extensive back catalogue, with cover versions of some of his great influences. The ensuing gig brought back countless memories of previous excursions to see Clapton, during my late-teens, when, at the height of his Journeyman success, the annual residency at the posh Kensington venue was one of the highlights of the year. Joined by the likes of Doyle Bramhall II, on guitar, Nathan East, on bass, and the legendary Billy Preston, on hammond organ and keyboards, (not to mention Steve Gadd, on drums, and Chris Stainton, on keyboards), Clapton and his entourage rolled back the years to spectacular effect, providing plenty of spine-tingling moments to savour. An early version of the blues classic, Hoochie Coochie Man, quickened the pulse in anticipation of what was to come, with Clapton unleashing his guitar in typically stirring fashion, while also delivering his vocals in trademark husky style. This was an exhilarating occasion, a spellbinding display of guitar prowess, in which Clapton held his audience mesmerised by the flawless execution of his music. His guitar wept, wailed and screamed at times, yet never failed to sound beautiful in the extreme, while his confident swagger belied the laid-back approach to proceedings. This may have been the Albert Hall, but it could just have easily for the front room of Clapton's mansion, such was the intimacy of some of the numbers. Needless to say, the guitars changed throughout the evening, with Clapton, Bramhall and East sitting on chairs for an acoustic rendition of a couple of Robert Johnson numbers - both of which were played with a youthful enthusiasm. Yet it was the electric moments which provided the most crackling highlight, with his spectacular version of I Shot The Sheriff providing the night's most outstanding memory. More reggae-based than anything, Clapton lulled his audience into a false sense of knowing familiarity, before letting go with a blistering guitar solo, that really made the hairs on the back of your neck stand on end. It was a virtuoso moment; a master-class, which had all and sundry drooling. Fears that the 59-year-old veteran may have lost his fire were well and truly dispelled as a result - as, on this form, the guitar supremo is damn-near unstoppable. The rest of the evening didn't quite manage to scale such dizzying heights again, but several came close, not least his greatest hits round-up at the end of the set, which saw the heartfelt Wonderful Tonight roll into Layla, and then into Cocaine, before he departed for the encore. Throughout, the wily performer handed the spotlight to his musical companions, with the left handed Bramhall performing his solos quite competently, and Preston providing his own moments of magic. But try as hard as they might, this was all about one man, a legend, whose guitar genius left fans breathless long into the night.

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