Crossroads: Eric Clapton Guitar Festival 2007 by Eric Clapton (DVD)

July 31, 2009

Eric Clapton hosted a little get-together in Chicago on July 28. Thousands of people showed up to hear and see some of the best rock guitarists on the planet strut their wares. The proceeds of this two-disc DVD set are being donated to Clapton’s Crossroads House, which is an alcoholic recovery facility.

From MC Bill Murray’s rendition of “Gloria” to Buddy Guy leading an all-star ensemble through a rousing rendition of “Sweet Home Chicago,” this DVD is a guitar aficionado’s delight. This set clocks in at around three hours and can be exhausting just from the volume of the performances. Also, the DVD can be somewhat disjointed at times due to the constant coming and going of artists. Despite these two handicaps, though, there is a lot of good music to be found here.

Sonny Landreth kicks off the first disc with his high-energy “Umbresso.” He immediately ramps up the energy and sets the bar high for the musicians that will follow. Landreth has a fascinating slide style of playing that is better to watch than to just hear. Eric Clapton joins Landreth for “Hell At Home.” Halfway through the song Clapton takes center stage with an extended solo.

This performance and several others to follow are the Clapton that I want to see and hear. I don’t want the laid back Clapton who defers to others on stage. I want the Clapton who will wring his guitar’s neck and play it into submission.

I had not heard from John McLaughlin in a long while. Here McLaughlin performs “Maharina” in a typical performance. His jazz-tinged rock runs counter to the melody set down by keyboards, bass and drums. McLaughlin has always traveled his own musical journey and, like him or not, there is no denying his talent.

I don’t know how many performances 81-year-old B.B. King has left in him. Here he has to remain seated while performing. His voice, however, sounds strong and his guitar has lost none of its technique or energy. His two numbers, “Paying The Cost To Be The Boss” and “Rock Me Baby,” set a standard that artists 20 to 50 years younger can only hope to emulate.

Much of the second disc it taken up with performances by Eric Clapton, Jeff Beck and Steve Winwood. Beck looks relaxed as he leads his band through “Cause We’ve Ended As Lovers” and “Big Block.” He is one of the few guitarists alive who can match Clapton note for note. His daughter is now his bass player and is a chip off the old block. Her playing in general and extended solo on “Lovers” was amazing.

The heart if the second disc is three solo performances by Eric Clapton plus his four collaborations with Steve Winwood. Clapton and Winwood share a lot of history and here they meld together effortlessly. Their performances of “Presence Of The Lord,” “Can’t Find My Way Home,” “Had To Cry Today” and the powerful “Crossroads” are worth the price of admission. Clapton’s rendition of George Harrison’s “Isn’t It A Pity” is poignant and technically superb. Winwood even gives it a go by stepping out from behind his keyboards and picking up the guitar for a solo version of “Dear Mr. Fantasy.”

Other highlights included Susan Tedeschi and Sheryl Crow, who more than held their own against their male counterparts. The Derek Trucks Band was excellent on its own and served as Clapton’s backup band during his performances. Buddy Guy and Hubert Sumlin aptly represented a living history of the blues. Even Vince Gill, of all people, comes across well as he moves his sound in a rock direction and adds a brass foundation.

Only a few misses are here, most notably the out-of-place Willie Nelson, an ill-looking Johnny Winter and John Mayer, who looks like a deer caught in the headlights.

If you like the guitar and are a fan of this era of guitar players, then Crossroads: Eric Clapton Guitar Festival 2007 is for you. It finds many great guitar players, past and present, at the top of their game.