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Clapton does his job and forgets Layla

So, I’ve been having a bit of trouble coming up with things to say about the Eric Clapton concert I went to last weekend. At the risk of sounding like a perpetual sourpuss, I have to say I didn’t enjoy it very much. And I can’t decide whether it was old Eric himself, or the awful venue [never again will I attend a concert at the Egilshöll arena, NEVER] with its horrific acoustics, or the sweltering heat [apparently the temperatures inside went up to 29°C / 84°F], or the condensation that started dripping down from the ceiling about two-thirds of the way through [the body moisture of 14,000 people dribbling down upon our heads, can you say DISGUSTING?] or the still-infuriating fact that we had to deposit our water receptacles at the door and then stood in that godforsaken lineup for a fricking hour.

All those things were bad enough, but maybe the root of the problem is that I’ve never really been a huge fan of old Eric’s. I own one of his CDs – the Unplugged one – and ‘Layla’ and ‘Cocaine’ were two of the most blast-able party anthems when I was growing up, but apart from that I really don’t dig his stuff all that much.

Be that as it may, I do like most types of music when it’s played well, with passion and real gusto. When the performer is really into what he or she is doing, I can usually get swept up pretty easily and have a good time. Not so with old Eric last Friday. In fact, I have to echo the words of my sister-in-law who said that the entire time she couldn’t get past the feeling that he was just ‘doing his job’. That he was ‘at work’. That was my sentiment also – Clapton is a skilled musician, he can really go at those guitar strings, but to me a lot of it seemed pretty mechanical. About a third of the way through, he and his second guitarist starting doing this kind of duelling-guitar thing, which was the first time I felt any sort of chemistry between performer(s) and audience. Soon afterwards he broke out his acoustic guitar and played a few songs sitting down, which also came across really well. I thought at that point that the concert was about to take off, but alas – it soon faltered and old Eric was back to being ‘at work’.

Initially I thought this experience of the concert was perhaps because we were standing so far from the stage [I couldn’t see a damn thing and had to fall back on watching the action on those big screens they had flanking it; numerous times I wondered why I hadn’t just bought the DVD and turned the volume up real loud at home] and because of all the general discomfort in there, but my sister-in-law was right up close to the stage, and she felt the same way. So clearly that wasn’t the issue.

Another thing that really bothered me – and bothered a lot of the people I’ve talked to – was the fact that he came on, shouted “Good evening!”, shouted “Thank you!” after many of the songs, at one point he said something about his friend who was there, but that was it. He barely smiled and made no effort to form a rapport with the audience. He didn’t even introduce the band, which I thought was pretty lame. He’s not an unlikeable character and I know he’s had a hard time and he’s worked hard to get sober and all that so I’m prepared to cut him some slack, but he certainly didn’t win me over as a performer.

The major downer, though, for almost everyone, was the absence of Layla. Before he arrived, mbl.is published his set list from two days previously in Bergen, and he followed it exactly EXCEPT that he left out Layla. Now, I know that there’s no rule he has to play the same set, but since it seemed to have been the only song he omitted from the set it seemed like a major letdown for everyone. Truly disappointing.

I should state for the record here that EPI disagreed with me on almost every point. [Not the point about Layla. Nor about not introducing the band. But almost everything else.] But then he’s a guitar guy and really got into the intricacies of the playing and whathaveyou, and couldn’t have cared less if Eric smiled or bawled or stood on his head or shouted F*uck you! [well, maybe that]. EPI wanted some hot guitar action – he didn’t want “showmanship” – and hot guitar action is what he got. He went out of there pretty happy.

Just one more point: I thought he had a kick-ass band with him and was pretty enamoured of his keyboard player, who looked like a skinny version of a Scandinavian troll doll and really let rip on those solos – apart from ‘Cocaine’ those were the highlights of the concert for me. Clapton’s sidekick guitar player was pretty good too, but mostly I was just stunned by the fact that he played the entire concert with a wool hat stuck on his head without his brain being boiled to a pulp. Of the entire band, the most charismatic was the bass player, who unfortunately was only rarely shown on the big screen but who had an amazing stage presence. And the drummer was supremely entertaining of all – the expressions on that guy’s face were almost worth the price of admission alone.

That’s it for me, then. But if you’ve made it this far and were at the concert I’d love to have your take. Það má vera á íslensku!

GORGEOUS DAY TODAY

The sun was out for most of the day, colouring everything brilliant – until late this afternoon when clouds rolled in and we actually had a little sprinkling of rain. Took a break from work to get some fresh air out by the golf course and it was gorgeous, really WARM, which is rarely the case out there as it’s a peninsula that basically just juts out into the sea. And everyone seemed to be in such happy spirits. Looks like we’re in for more of the same over the next three days. Right now 13°C [55F], sunrise was at 5:07 am, sunset at 9.56 pm.

PS – found a couple of vids on YouTube that are actually a lot more impressive than the real thing *sigh* I should have just stayed home and watched the highlights there. Here’s [the completely cringe-worthy] Wonderful Tonight and here’s Cocaine. So what do you think: do you feel the passion, or is old Eric just doing his job?

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  • CarolQ August 12, 2008, 12:37 am

    En, he was so-so from the sound of Cocaine but there was too much reverb (sp) for my liking and the music was a little tinny but that’s probably my computer (but I don’t think so; nothing else comes out that way). Maybe he’s getting a little log in the tooth. Back when I was a concert goer (mumble-mumble years ago), we just couldn’t bring in alcohol to a concert. Sounds like he was trying maybe to make extra on the water/drinks/food/etc.?

  • CarolQ August 12, 2008, 12:38 am

    Hmm maybe I did mean LOG rather than LONG in the tooth! LOL!

  • Karen* August 12, 2008, 2:08 am

    I’ve never been a big Eric Clapton fan either and my husband just loves the guy, like your EPI – I wonder if it’s a gender thing?

  • Jon August 12, 2008, 2:13 am

    As a guitar player and Clapton fan for * decades, I’d like to hear from EPI on this one. Just watching fingers and listening to phrasing would make me pretty happy. There must be a better venue somewhere in Iceland, though.

  • Cama August 12, 2008, 2:36 am

    Hummmm, you know, If I remember, all these years later, Clapton had kind of a low key stage presence. It’s all about his guitar. I agree with you on the dull performance. He seems like he is exhausted and like you said “just doing his job”. On the other hand, that’s about the same stage presence that I see with him on TV here in the states in the past years. He’s old and burned out now! We need to send him some vega-mina-vitamins and pep up his act!!!!!

  • KB4IUJ August 12, 2008, 3:40 am

    Did any of you take any photographs of him ? Perhaps what someone ought to do is invite him back to Iceland to do some fly fishing, once this tour is over with. He loves to Fly Fish and from what I understand is Iceland is quite a place for that.

    I’d love to see some pictures of that event. Regards

  • Sirry August 12, 2008, 4:11 am

    I’ve always loved Eric Clapton ever since I first heard him play. I don’t think it’s a gender thing.
    I went to see good ol’ George Michael the other day and even though he was a couple of hours late…he was superb.
    Maybe I’m just easy when it comes to great performers
    I’m curious about Egilshöll…is that place built with acoustics in mind?
    Weather in Beantown: muggy 90% humidity, but not too hot anymore 18C. Very rainy these days like I had predicted this summer would be. Sunset, already happened – Sunrise…tomorrow morning sometime I guess 😉

  • Keera August 12, 2008, 5:24 am

    I learned the hard way never to go to the concert of someone whose work I wasn’t already thoroughly familiar with; it ends up being confusing and even boring. Concerts, I have discovered, require that sort of background information; they aren’t a way for a newbie to learn about a performer.

  • Eric outside Boston MA. August 12, 2008, 5:24 am

    Alda,
    I have ben reading your blog for more then a year. I believe I found the sight while actually looking for an Iceland weather report before a visit to Iceland. I found my weather report and much more. I enjoy the social, political and Reykjavik commentary and the local gossip and and always have a good laugh at something. I have visited Niceland 7-8 times in the past 15 years. My wife and I and now children come to visit with my wife’s dearest friend Hjordis and her family. We walk the city, go to the zoo, football games, drink coffee, swim a little, go visit family and friends in the country. We eat and drink well and talk a lot about our respective countries, governments, economies and the contrasting differences and simalarities.
    Alda, I appreciate the approach and attitude to life the comes thru in your writing. With my knowledge and experience of your country I feel that I keep in touch and learn a little more from your site.

    Now I want to give you the link to my website and share my own off beat humor. If you go to maplestreetpenguins.com you can see the antics of the family of 2 foot tall plastic penguins that winter over in front of my Massachusetts home for the past several years.
    Thank you for writing and giving us a window into your view of life.
    Eric

  • Lucy August 12, 2008, 8:58 am

    yeah, his keyboard player was AWESOME at the gig i was at too

  • Alda August 12, 2008, 9:58 am

    Carol – yep the reverb was awful, so much that I couldn’t even hear the words to the songs. I can hear a LOT better by watching those YouTube videos, sad to say. As for trying to make a little extra – well, that’s definitely true, but it doesn’t go into his pocket, but rather the pocket of the concert promoter.

    Karen – I’ve found myself wondering about that, too.

    Jon – EPI was happy. And unfortunately there is not a better venue in Iceland that takes that number of people. The second-largest one takes only around 7,000. Remember our population is only 300,000!

    Cama – Quite! He really did seem burned out, and almost like he was absent some of the time. BUT he played the guitar right, and I guess that’s what most people came for.

    KB4 – photographs and recording were strictly forbidden as at most concerts, but there are those videos on YouTube, if you follow my links.

    Sirry – no, Egilshöll is definitely not built with acoustics in mind – it’s a sports arena!

    Keera – that is VERY wise. I’ll use that as a guideline from now on.

    Eric – hi and welcome! And thanks for the kind words. 🙂

    Lucy – must have been the same one. Totally excellent. Incidentally, did he play Layla?

  • Scoats August 12, 2008, 10:40 am

    KB4IUJ, I was told that Clapton does fish in Iceland. There’s a expensive trout stream, and he fishes there.

    Alda, maybe you’re just old 🙂 like me! Usually large arenas are terrible to see music in, with terrible acoustics and being too far away . Luckily you have loads of great local musicians you can see in smaller venues.

  • alda August 12, 2008, 10:54 am

    Scoats – right, I forgot to mention that to KB4 … indeed, Clapton has come to Iceland every summer for the past decade or so to fish for salmon.

    As for the old part – perhaps, but then EPI is ten years older than me and he had a good time!! In fact, I don’t know anyone over the age of 20 who enjoys concerts in large arenas … although I did see a fantastic David Bowie concert once along with 59,999 other people! I should add though that a large part of the WOW factor was the sheer number of people who were there!

  • Karen August 12, 2008, 1:07 pm

    I totally hear you on that large venue thing. My first encounter with that kind of concert was my last – Concrete Blonde opening for Sting in the SkyDome in Toronto.

    It was kinda cool feeling the music – Concrete Blonde’s – literally bouncing off the water in my body, but unfortunately, that was the best part of the experience. When Sting came on, everyone stood up on their chairs and stayed there for the rest of the concert. I either had to join them or watch the big screens on either side of the stage – and then I had to think “what’s the point? I could watch this at home in my living room”. And yeah, he was just doing his job too – very mechanical.

  • Vikingisson August 12, 2008, 7:50 pm

    There seems to be only a few older artists that can still play with the soul that made them famous way back when. Too bad that Eric didn’t come across that way. He’s been amazing since he was a teen so perhaps he needs to enjoy the money and step back. That venue didn’t help I’m sure, yuck. I would have been insane with those conditions.

    I think that my site may have sent a link over to your previous article. I had a googly for “clapton iceland hot inside” yesterday and that would be from your RSS links on my site. And to go off topic for a moment I also had a googly for “asses of iceland” so if you have the answer I can point the curious to where they can find them… 🙂 Mine is nice but I’m a little too old and too male for them..

    Weather over here, same as it has been all summer; rain, cool temps, more rain and lots of thunder and lightning.

  • JoeInVegas August 12, 2008, 8:32 pm

    Watching the video – yes, looks like he is at work, but as usual the guitar was remarkable. And the piano player at least seemed to get into it. Sorry that you had to spend so much money. It is also the reason that I don’t hit many concerts any more; for the price of ten CDs which I could listen to for years I am left staring at the backs of heads listening to drunks try to sing along, drowning out whatever act is up there.

  • Kristin August 12, 2008, 8:36 pm

    Was it at Egilshöllin that Metallica played in 2004? I can only imagine how hot and crowded the arena was then with 18,000 people- although I suppose the band was loud enough that the airconditioning units could be on full blast!

  • digdug727 August 12, 2008, 9:23 pm

    i think i’ll just spend my money on local music. there is no better experience for the money. hungry young artists PERFORM. plus, you support your local economy.

  • alda August 12, 2008, 9:36 pm

    Karen – yep. No more arenas. Actually I saw Sting here a few years ago, at a different venue (Laugardalshöll) and he was OK, but also didn’t interact a lot with the audience and played a VERY short set. And no encore. Boo.

    Víkingsson – you’ve totally baffled me with the googlie thing, I have no idea what you’re talking about. Sent someone over from your site?? – And no, I’m sure I have no asses to show anyone. 🙂

    Joe – yes, the keyboard player was truly amazing. And I think this is it for me – no more concerts, at least never at Egilshöll.

    Kristin – yes I think that’s where they played, although not sure. Apparently the air conditioning is really loud in there, and that’s why they didn’t turn it on during the Clapton concert. *shrug*

    Doug – very wise indeed. And if they can play the guitar like Eric Clapton, so much the better.

  • john August 13, 2008, 1:09 am

    i saw E.C. (i refuse to call him Slowhand) last year and i thought he kicked some major ass! i was never a huge fan necessarily, but he plays a righteous guitar. on the other hand, i was a little disappointed when i saw The Police a few months ago. back in the day, i bought everything they put out but i was a little underwhelmed at the concert. not that you asked!

  • Djaddi August 13, 2008, 11:39 am

    So, Egilshöllin has crappy acoustics too? I went to the Dylan concert in Laugardalshöllin, and the acoustics were horrible there too. Plus it was standing room only for 8000 people so it was very hard to see anything. And Dylan barely acknowledged the audience. But that’s OK, I still got to see Dylan live! 🙂

  • Vikingisson August 13, 2008, 1:14 pm

    Alda, what I meant was that a google hit on my site pointed to my RSS links that contained a link to your article. I guess I’m a refueling station on the way to Niceland.

  • Rozanne August 14, 2008, 7:28 pm

    I am not a bit surprised that Clapton dialed it in like that. I’ve never been a fan of his at all and all of this stuff (at least in the U.S.) is so overplayed still, I really do not enjoy listening to it. But if I’m that sick of it, imagine how heartily sick it it he must be (sounds like it shows, too) after playing it for 50 years and that probably explains why he skipped Layla.

    I agree with you about Wonderful Tonight. That song makes me want to throw up. The sappiness factor is off the charts.

  • alda August 14, 2008, 7:42 pm

    John – I didn’t ask, but interested nonetheless! Sting has totally lost all appeal for me, especially since I learned that he goes to brothels.

    Djaddi – yeah, EPI went to that Dylan concert and was really pleased. I would have gone nuts – I’m 162 cm (5’5″) and can never see anything when it’s standing room only.

    Rozanne – Yes, but he played Layla two days earlier!! – and I didn’t want to use such strong words to describe Wonderful Tonight because I was being so extremely negative, but that’s precisely what I meant to write. It’s totally nauseating. I’m not surprised their relationship didn’t work out – if it’s an accurate description of their relationship it just tells me he completely objectified her and didn’t know her at all.

  • Rose August 17, 2008, 1:22 pm

    It’s not a gender thing!