Eric Clapton wrapped a two-night stand at New York’s Madison Square Garden on Sunday night with a 90-minute set proving that despite his recent health issues, he still has the energy and chops to deliver a memorable concert.
Since concluding his 50th anniversary trek last year, the 73-year-old has retired from full-scale touring in favor of spot dates. He was diagnosed with peripheral neuropathy in 2013, a nerve disease that causes tingling in extremities and painful “shocks,” which makes playing guitar and performing difficult.
Despite all that, on Sunday night Clapton tackled his catalog of classics like a man who has something to prove. While he may have lost some of the spark he showed in the late ’80s and early ’90s — and many fans were overheard wondering before the show whether he still had the goods — he wowed crowd with a stellar set in what could be, but hopefully isn’t, a farewell.
The three-time Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inductee walked on the stage to a thunderous ovation and grabbed his iconic black Fender Stratocaster as drummer Sonny Emory, guitarist Doyle Bramhall II, keyboardist and vocalist Paul Carrack, keyboardist Chris Stainton and singers Sharon White and Sharlotte Gibson followed.
They opened with “Somebody’s Knocking,” which was an unreleased J.J. Cale cover he recorded during his 2016 sessions for “I Still Do.” From the opening notes Clapton proved his soaring guitar tone and fluid technique are as powerful as they ever were, although his seasoned voice was the weakest link in the show.
Clapton loosened up during a rousing version of Bob Marley’s “I Shot The Sheriff,” and followed with a laid-back acoustic set. The crowd grew a little restless, but snapped to attention when he played the “Unplugged” arrangement of “Layla” and followed with a reggae-influenced take of “Tears in Heaven.”
He followed with a brace of classics to round out the main set: Cream’s “White Room,” the ballad “Wonderful Tonight,” two Robert Johnson tunes — “Crossroads” and “Little Queen of Spades” — and finally “Cocaine,” which got the crowd out of their seats and ended the set on a high note.
The crowd roared when Clapton returned for the encore, prompting the man-of-few-words to say simply, “You’re unbelievable. Thank you!” He then brought out opening acts Gary Clark Jr. and Jimmie Vaughan to join him on the final song of the night, “High Time We Went.” Paul Carrack sang the tune with authority as the guitarists took turns soloing over the song.
During his opening set, Clark Jr. wowed the audience with his bluesy guitar playing and soulful vocals. During his 45-minute set, the Texas native paused to take in his surroundings: “It’s not every day I get to do this. I’m kinda tripping.” He closed his set with a resounding version of “Bright Lights.”
Jimmie Vaughan opened the show with a mellow set highlighted by a cover of Bruce Channel’s 1961 hit “Hey Baby” and a brilliant cover of “Texas Flood,” in honor of his late-brother, Stevie Ray Vaughan.