Monday, 11 January 2016

Slowhand at 70 – Live at the Royal Albert Hall

Eric ‘Slowhand’ Clapton is a bona fide music legend. Referred to as one of the most important influential guitarists of all time, Clapton is the only three-time inductee to the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame – once as a solo artist, and separately as a member of The Yardbirds and iconic rock trio Cream. Ranking 2nd in Rolling Stone magazine’s 100 Greatest Guitarists of All Time and 4th in Gibson’s Top 50, there’s no denying his status as something of a hero. From the 14 to the 23rd of May this year, Clapton performed a week of concerts at London’s legendary Royal Albert Hall to celebrate his 70th birthday, as well as mark 50 years since he first played the venue on 7th December 1964 with The Yardbirds. 

Out now on standard DVD and Blu-Ray as well as in a variety of deluxe editions courtesy of Eagle Rock Entertainment, Slowhand at 70 is truly a sight (and sound) to behold. At 70 years old, Clapton is better than he’s ever been before. Taking us through a long, retrospective crowd-pleasing set, he maintains a passionate stage presence and shows that you simply can’t take rock out of some people, regardless of their age. Just like in the recent The Who – Live in Hyde Park and Roger Waters – The Wall concerts I’ve reviewed, increasing age can lend a lot to music performance. I would argue that performers like this just keep getting better – their age and the history you can see in their eyes just gives so much more feeling and passion to the words and the sound. Songs like Tears in Heaven, written about the pain and loss Clapton felt following the death of his 4-year-old son, feel deeper and more emotional than ever before – despite Clapton stating he’s gotten past the loss in a way that makes the song a lot more detached. He’d stopped playing the song in 2004 and resurrected it from 2013 onwards, along with My Father’s Eyes – a song about the father Clapton never met.

Clapton once likened performing at the Royal Albert Hall to ‘playing in my front room’, hardly surprising when you learn he has now played the venue over 200 times. He has become synonymous with the Hall, and so it’s only natural that he played here for his 70th birthday celebrations. He seems completely at home on stage and commands his audience like a prophet, sent down from the heavens to teach his disciples with his guitar. While some artists of his age are showing signs of age getting the better of them – Roger Daltrey of The Who’s failing voice and Brian Wilson of The Beach Boys’ general confusion, to name but two examples – ol’ Slowhand is showing no signs of slowing down. I noticed one review state “he still has a fire in his belly, and his fingers” and I couldn’t put it any better. I’m sure in 10 years’ time he’ll be celebrating his 80th, and 10 years after that, his 90th. Clapton’s backing band is extremely strong here too, with Paul Carrack, Chris Stainton, Andy Fairweather Low, Nathan East and Steve Gadd performing excellently and some strong background vocals from Michelle John and Sharon White.

The film is beautifully shot, gently capturing the intimate performance and putting you right there in the Hall with Clapton. I’ve been to the Royal Albert Hall, and no concert film has taken be back there better than this one. With frequent long shots showing the beautiful architecture of the building and the immense scale of the crowd, as well as plentiful close-ups, the film is one of the better filmed concerts of recent years. Thankfully, the concert is presented without interruption – something that has become something of a tedious trend in concert films of recent years. There’s no forced interviews or information presented between or over the performances. No, the film allows us to enjoy Clapton’s immense magic without any intruding.

In conclusion, Slowhand at 70 is a beautiful snapshot of one of the greatest guitarists of all time at his best, in the venue most special to him. Clapton and the band are on fire throughout the entirety of the fantastic set-list, the film is subtly visually stunning and the sound mix excels across the board.

Rock on, Clapton. See you in 10 years for Slowhand at 80. 5/5 .


Sam Love

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