Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Best guitarist in the world... ever

Last night we had our second Big Night Out in a couple of weeks; this time to the NEC Arena to see Eric Clapton and Steve Winwood. The tickets cost an arm and several legs, but we figured it was a once-in-a-lifetime sort of thing since he's not getting any younger and seats at his concerts tend to be like hen's teeth.

The last time we were at the Arena it was some years ago, to see Rush live. To be honest, it was a memorable night for all the wrong reasons. The venue looked scruffy and unfinished, everyone in front of us stood up the minute the music started so I got no view at all, the air was blue with cigarette and pot smoke (both of which I'm violently allergic to), and the accoustics were absolutely, shockingly awful. The Arena is basically a corrugated tin shed and if you turn up the amps high enough the whole building vibrates in time to the bass and you can't hear a ruddy thing!

Thankfully, this time the experience was much, much better. The Arena was refurbished a couple of years or so ago so it's now vibrant and stylish. The smoking ban has come into force. The stands are no longer so temporary that there's a huge gap at the back of the highest row, leading to a sudden sharp drop back to floor level. And somebody, somewhere seems to have done something about the accoustics because they were fine.

And the concert? Well, it was fantastic. You can't get much better in terms of sheer musical expertise than these two. Clapton played on not one but four different guitars (not all at the same time, I hasten to add) including electric and accoustic, and his economic style made it all look far too easy. And Winwood was a revelation, playing guitar, organ and grand piano and singing beautifully. They played a great selection of tracks including blues, blues-rock, jazz, and one or two poppier hits and they played non-stop for over two hours, with no interval, and came back for a longish encore. And their sheer professionalism meant they were note perfect all evening and improvised and 'jammed' together on pretty much every track.

The Arena holds just shy of 15,000 people now and by the end of the evening every last one of them was on their feet, stomping and cheering two brilliant musicians. We felt a little sorry for Winwood; his lengthy solos brought decent applause but Clapton only had to play two chords and the place erupted. But then he is a legend in his own time and I'm very, very glad we finally got to see him, in the flesh, live.

There's a review of the concert by the Birmingham Mail here which says pretty much the same things I just have, only better. And I promise I won't say a word about the twenty-five minutes it took us to get out of the NEC car park afterwards...

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