Eric Clapton headlined two shows at Madison Square Garden over the weekend that assemble some of the best musicians in rock to celebrate his 70th birthday. (Photo: Getty)

Eric Clapton headlined two shows at Madison Square Garden over the weekend that assemble some of the best musicians in rock to celebrate his 70th birthday. (Photo: Getty)

It was billed as Eric Clapton’s 70th Birthday Celebration (it was in March), but the Madison Square Garden gathering Sunday night (May 3) was more a reaffirmation of Clapton as one of rock’s greatest guitarists ever.

From John Mayall, Cream and Blind Faith to Derek and the Dominoes and numerous superb solo efforts, Clapton is the soundtrack of our lives for the rock and roll generation–those who came of age in the 1960s and 1970s.

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The Sunday night show, a follow-up to a Friday’s performance, included standout performances by Doyle Bramhall II, John Mayer, Derek Trucks and Jimmie Vaughan.

I’ve seen Clapton a half-dozen times since the ’70s and last saw him about 10 years ago at Shea Stadium with Elton John. It was a total blowout show.



The two came out and did four songs together which were the best moments. I knew it at the time it was a show that was going to be hard to beat.

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The fellow sitting next to me was at the first birthday show on Friday and said it was just great. That’s the thing about Clapton’s fans; they’re committed, brutally honest and will go to see more than one show during a run.

The crowd was mostly age specific as you would have thought, but that didn’t stop them from giving “Slowhand” numerous standing-o’s and much applause when one of his featured players soloed.

Clapton is touring with one of his best bands ever: Nathan East on bass, Steve Gadd on drums and pianist Chris Stainton, who is no doubt the band’s secret weapon and has been with him for 41 years.

Paul Carrack, who played second keyboard, is best known as a member of the late of the great ’70s group Ace, noted for its terrific single “How Long.” Michelle John and Sharon White sang backup.

Reports from the Friday concert were stunning and Clapton stuck with essentially the same set-list.

A totally re-worked “I Shot The Sherriff” was just astounding. Clapton’s solo showed he’s just as sharp as ever. The Blind Faith chestnut, “Can’t Find My Way Home” with East on vocals was stunning too. What a great song to hear again!

Carrack sang a terrific version of Joe Cocker’s “You Are So Beautiful,” with Eric on a wailing guitar. The song just stunned the sold-out crowd.

Guest Mayer dazzled on Clapton’s “Pretending” and Jimmie Vaughan, brother of the late-great Stevie Ray, was absolutely amazing on “Before You Accuse Me.”

Truth be told, I was never a huge fan of the Vaughan brothers, but tonight Jimmie just dazzled.

Bramhall and Trucks (Allman Brothers) came on for a rendition of “Let It Rain,” from Eric’ s debut solo album in August 1970.

Honestly, it was a bit thin. I loved the song when it came out; produced by Delaney Bramlett, but it didn’t make it for me tonight.

The encore was a stirring version of “High Time We Went”, written by Joe Cocker and Stainton in 1972. It’s a great song, all about the evils of being out late; something all of us could relate to back then.

All the guests took solos and it was a real high point of the night.

This was Clapton’s final performance in North America for 2015. He and his band now head back to England where they will kick off a seven date residency at Royal Albert Hall in London on 14 May.

With reports of Clapton slowing down his touring schedule, this could be the last time I see him. But, it was totally, stunning, rewarding show on every level. It couldn’t have been better.

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