By JOHN LAYCOCK
DETROIT - Ah, such a delight, and such a relief: Eric Clapton came through. He's a great guitar player, we all know that. He just doesn't always play great. But at Cobo Arena Tuesday he looked happy, healthy and sober, and showed why he's the guitarist of the decade.
Genius can be a puzzling, perplexing thing. It is not easy to bear. Clapton's determination has sometimes seemed slack, his promise sometimes unfulfilled. He came out of the British blues cult during Beatlemania and his band Cream set the scene for electronic progressive-rock. By the mid-70s his liaison with Duane Allman united English and Southern U.S. rock and that union's influence is still seminal.
Yet at the same time Clapton was paralyzed by self-doubts: he realized he had to sing to be the star the public demanded, yet he sometimes preferred hiding in the band; he took refuge in heroin addiction; then, returning to concert performing as a band leader, he sometimes fell so deeply into the bottle that he could hardly play. He was an idol who was convinced he had feet of clay.
Nary a scar was showing at Cobo, though. Clapton filled his 90-minute set with rapturous guitar, mellowed by the years, under no pressure to flaunt the capacity that earned him the nickname Slowhand. Playing simple is more than just leaving out notes, it's knowing what notes to leave out, and Clapton's taste and dexterity made every solo sound utterly complete.
It was like flipping the calendar pages for his decade: a stunning reworking of
Cream's favorite, Badge, now much lighter and airier; Layla, as shimmering as on record; a dynamic Let It Rain, from his earlier solo work; a droning Cocaine from the latest RSO-Polydor album, Slowhand.
Some oddities, too: a reggae version of Bob Dylan's Knocking On Heaven's Door, but no I Shot The Sheriff, his (and reggae's) biggest seller; a messy acoustic cowboy tune, In Love With A Rodeo Man.
His singing sidekick Yvonne Elliman was missing, but not missed, because hometown Detroit girl Marci Levi has hired on with the band, and she has lungs that can peel paint at 50 paces. Her Nobody Knows You When You're Down And Out was spectacularly bluesy; a rocking Fool's Paradise is a discovery, which Clapton identified as an old Buddy Holly tune.
Marci plays hot blues harmonica, too. She's earned her spotlight in this elevated company. So if Clapton has more charm than charisma on stage, Detroit was right in treating him more like a saint than a star.
The show was opened by John Martyn, veteran Scottish guitarist who's a favorite of British musicians and practically unknown otherwise. Martyn in the past has combined delicate love songs with instrumental exploration, but on Tuesday he had a new toy that left little room for delicacy.
Facing the crowd solo, he fed his acoustic guitar through an electronic food-blender -is this the new guitar synthesizer?- that filled the place with eerie sound and jerky rhythms. Brave; I can see why the likes of Clapton would respect his innovations. But monotonous, too: Martyn's capable of more variety.
This Canadian review was left intact for the other fans and was printed in The Windsor Star (Ontario) of Wednesday 29 March 1978.