My editor made fun of me when I told him we had tickets to the Eric Clapton show last night at the American Airlines Arena. "Jeez, is he gonna come out on stage in a walker?" he asked, chuckling. As it turns out, my editor was only half-right. The audience certainly fit his expectations - grey-haired men in casual Friday garb, polo tees stretched over paunches and tucked into "fun jeans" or well-pressed, high waisted khakis. Taut-faced Botoxed blondes teetered on ridiculous heels in the beer line. When seated, our neighbors included a scowling ringer for Angela from The Office and a beer-swilling douchebag who insisted on putting his hairy, Birkenstock-clad feet up on the backs of the chairs. Clapton, clad in white guayabera and loose blue pants, appeared youthful from a distance but appeared grey and doughy on the unforgiving big screen. No matter. The magic still danced in his fingers and he got this decidedly older crowd up and dancing to a blistering version of "I Shot the Sherriff" early in the set.
Watching the guitar god interact with his backing band was a lesson in musical generosity — he gave every musician a chance to shine, and left the crowd wanting a little less magnanimity and a bit more Clapton. The band started out rocking hard, and then seats were brought on stage for an accomplished acoustic set straight out of his bluesy Unplugged album. "Nobody Knows You (When You're Down and Out)" and "Running on Faith" got the crowd swaying, and Clapton performed a wicked kazoo solo on "San Francisco Bay Blues." The band came roaring back with an electric "After Midnight," and bathed the audience in purple light for a low-key "Wonderful Tonight." Teenage girls brought by their parents screeched for "Layla," and the whole audience sang along lustily to "Cocaine. The encore was a pounding rendition of "Crossroads," which became a duet between Clapton and virtuoso Robert Cray (who gave excellent guitar-face throughout the evening). "Man, he was on fire! And he was the one who was expected to die after Hendrix," mused a weathered business hippie on the escalator ride down. Despite the expectations of fans and critics alike, Clapton proved that he's still alive, still vibrant, and still worth the steep ticket price.-Patrice Elizabeth Grell Yursik