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Eric Clapton: Bigger Bands Can Work

So after my recent letdown at a Dave Mathews Band concert where ten musicians on stage all bled together into a sonic stew, I was curious about Eric Clapton, since I had tickets for the April 3 Clapton concert in Raleigh, and I knew he would have a fairly large band on stage.

Clapton pulled it off right! First of all, despite Eric himself looking like a tenured English Lit professor, the man can still rock. He has lost nothing. I vaguely remember him from a front-row seat at a performance in Knoxville, Tennessee back in the early seventies. In the nearly forty years since I first saw him play on stage, he has become more well-rounded. His acoustic set was beautiful, especially Wonderful Tonight, but also Layla and Tears in Heaven. His tonal expressiveness on his signature Martin 000-28 acoustic guitar was impressive, and his vocals (the acid test of time for a musician) were still right on.

But when he got to the electric part of the performance, his nine-piece all-star band really pulled it together. Eric’s guitar virtuosity has just gotten better and better. His command of the fretboard both slow and fast was impressive. He even played slide on one tune (first time I’ve seen him do that). He is truly deserving of the accolades and the positioning at or near the top of nearly everyone’s top ten guitarists of all time list.

Doyle Bramhall II played aside Eric, and Doyle is no slouch either. Doyle is well-known among blues and blues-rock aficionados. His dad played with Jimmie and Stevie Ray Vaughan. Doyle has played with Roger Waters’ band, and now has been touring with Clapton for while. He didn’t just stick to laying down a rhythmic backdrop for the master to play against. Doyle himself stepped out and proved he is a great guitarist as well. He too commanded wondrous tones and scintillating riffs. I was amazed when I noticed him playing his left-handed Stratocaster with it strung upside down (fatter/lower strings on the bottom) as he bent high notes down. I’d only seen him play before on the 2010 Crossroads DVD. He lived up to expectations.

Then there’s Willie Weeks on bass. I had remembered Willie’s impressive bass on a performance of Rocky Mountain Way from the Joe Walsh Live album. At the Clapton concert, Willie was animated and energetic and put himself on my personal top ten bassists list.

Chris Stainton on has had quite a lengthy career on keyboards, having had prior collaborations with Clapton, as well as Steve Winwood, George Harrison, Roger Waters, Joe Cocker…(he played piano on the Who album Quadraphenia). He got a huge ovation for one of his solos with Clapton.

Then there’s Paul Carrack on organ. Carrack also has had a storied career with the likes of Roger Waters, The Eagles, Elton John, and B.B. King. Paul sang beautiful lead vocals on Tempted, How Long and one of the encore numbers High Time We Went.

Steve Jordan was a maniac on drums. His mix of energy and temporal precision kept the performance moving and grooving (sorry – I had to say that once). Jordan’s cv includes working with Stevie Wonder, The Rolling Stones, and being the drummer for the Saturday Night Live Band back in the seventies.

And as if two guitarists wasn’t enough, there was Greg Leisz on pedal steel guitar as well as a lap slide guitar. Leisz has played with the Eagles, Jon Fogerty, Allison Krauss, Joe Cocker, Emmylou Harris, et. al.

Rounding out the band were the duo of female backing vocalists: Michelle John and Sharon White.

Overall, this was a band of accomplished and experienced musicians. So how did they sound playing together? Freaking fantastic. Compared to other megabands I’ve seen in the past, I could hear every single instrument at all times. The PNC Arena is a huge indoor arena, but well-known for having pretty decent acoustics.

Clapton FOH Pit

The audio engineers and the mixer at the Front-Of-House console were all undoubtedly at the top of their game. But I’m also crediting Clapton himself for being able to come up with a musical arrangement that kept all the sounds from bleeding into a morass of indistinguishable tone, and yet allowing each musician to shine at the right time.

The Chang Scale

For reference purposes, the Chang Scale:

(0) Fail! Completely devoid of redeeming value of any kind. Junk/garbage. Recommend avoidance at all cost.

(1) Lowest passing grade. Some redeeming value, but on the whole, rather bad. Recommend you try to find something else. Substitute something similar if possible.

(2) Decent aspects to it, but overall still not quite that good. Certainly not memorable. If this is all there is, maybe go for it if you need a fix. You might like it better than I.

(3) Satisfactory. Not bad at all, but not all that good either—sort of neutral or “meh”.

(4) Quite good. Recommend you give it a try. You might love it.

(5) Excellent! I loved it and highly recommend it. Recommend you go out of your way or pay a premium for it.

Hello World!

It was a dark and stormy night.

Well not night, and not exactly stormy.

But I did stay in a Holiday Inn Express once. No, not really. Those places scare me.

Let me start again.

So I just got an iPad and it’s motivated me to start writing again.

I’m a novelist who hasn’t been published yet. I’m a screenwriter who hasn’t sold a script to Hollywood—yet! And I do other things too. I’m a guerilla filmmaker who sometimes does sound mixing for other filmmakers. Sometimes I’m a script supervisor. Recently, I’ve gotten my feet wet as a director. I play guitar and bass. I own a small recording and film post-production studio. I’ve recorded and run the mixing console at live concerts by up-and-coming bands.

No, you haven’t seen any of my work — not under this name. I work under a different name. That way I can objectively critique things without fear of never working in this town again. You may well have seen my work on YouTube or Vimeo or heard some of my music on Reverb Nation. Several of my screenplays have been turned into independent films. And I’ve edited and mixed the soundtrack for several others. And I love to cook, and I love to eat good food. I’m always open to a tip on a good local eatery (or drinkery!)

I started this blog because I like to share knowledge (knowledge is power—so they say) and we should all be empowering ourselves to enjoy life more. The world is crappy enough without denying ourselves the simple pleasures of good food, good music, good films, good books, and good company to share them all with.

I live and work in the so-called “Triangle” area in North Carolina. There is a lot of talent in this area — in Durham, Chapel Hill and from my neck of the woods — Raleigh. And I’ve had the pleasure of working with a lot of the very talented musicians, artists, writers, directors, cinematographers, editors, actors, and sound guys over the past dozen or so years. To them I give my sincere thanks (except to a handful of cads to whom I give the Bronx cheer). Hopefully, I’ll continue to have the honor and pleasure of working with more of these great, talented folks over the course of the future (and good fortune of avoiding the cads).

I love storytelling in all its forms—whether it be a photograph, a watercolor, a short story, a stage play, a poem, a film, or a song. In fact even great cuisine tells a sort of story as well, so I consider cooking to be an art form as well. So here I go, embarking on my mission of sharing what I know and what I learn along the way, in this great adventure and journey we call life.

Cheers,

— Boris Chang
July 1, 2011