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Five Thoughts: Eric Clapton at T-Mobile Arena (September 13)

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Eric Clapton, performing September 13 at T-Mobile Arena.
Al Powers for T-Mobile Arena

1. Blues guitarist Jimmie Vaughan bookended the concert. The older brother to late, great guitarist Stevie Ray opened the show. His lively blues music seemed made for a Texas wood-floored dancehall, but it translated extraordinarily well to an arena. My only regret is that more fans didn’t get to see him perform because they didn’t arrive in time. Vaughan later returned to the stage to join headliner Eric Clapton for the single-song encore: an extended version of “Before You Accuse Me.”

2. He’s still got it. Through the entirety of his 105-minute set, Clapton displayed the virtuosity expected of a musician who has won countless awards, including multiple Grammys and three inductions into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. At age 74, Clapton is going deaf and suffers from nerve damage that makes playing the guitar more difficult. But he looked and sounded so fantastic Friday night at T-Mobile Arena, you wouldn’t know he faced any health problems.

3. The setlist was a fan pleaser. Granted, a career as long as Clapton’s offers a lot of gold from which to mine. But still, he played a satisfying mix of his most famous tunes and blues standards. “Tears in Heaven” ended an acoustic interlude and inspired the audience to sing along. “Layla” capped off the main concert and brought a mostly sitting audience to its feet. Standards included “Key to the Highway,” “Hoochie Coochie Man,” acoustic versions of “Driftin’ Blues” and “Nobody Knows You When You’re Down and Out.” He also played his famous cover of Bob Marley’s “I Shot the Sheriff.”

4. He left ’em wanting more. The only time fans in the seemingly sold-out venue expressed their displeasure? When the concert ended after the quick encore. When the musician and his world-class band left the stage, the cheering continued so loudly, it might have wooed a younger man back to play. But as the house lights brought reality back to the arena, thousands of otherwise calm Baby Boomers reclaimed their rebellious spirit and began booing.

5. The legacy of the blues remains complicated. Clapton and many Brits of his generation have built careers inspired by the blues. They’ve taken an art form that was created by African-Americans in the Deep South during slavery and segregation, repackaged it and presented it to largely white audiences, garnering great acclaim. To be sure, Clapton has clearly cited his influences, even recording a 2004 album titled Me and Mr. Johnson in tribute to blues forefather Robert Johnson. Still, this year is the 400th anniversary of the start of slavery in America, and we still haven’t managed to heal the wounds from that original sin. So, as a largely white audience watched a white man sing about having “mojo,” it was hard not to feel a little weird about the situation. I hope Clapton fans understand and appreciate the reasons the music sounds so soulful.

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