JENNIFER CHANCELLOR World Scene Writer
Eric Clapton’s relaxed style — and attire, in a black cotton button-down shirt, jeans and sneakers — belied the depth and skill in his renditions of the galloping Howlin’ Wolf blues classic “Going Down Slow” and the sultry “I Shot the Sheriff.”
Clapton’s fretwork flowed effortlessly at his nearly sold-out concert at the BOK Center on Tuesday night. He swayed into “Key to the Highway” without introduction to the audience. Seven bandmates filled the stage.
Three songs into his set, he finally said “Good evening!” and the crowd erupted as he segued into “Tell The Truth,” with holy-roller backing vocals that hit gospel highs as two keyboardists pounded away behind him.
Clapton was a man of few words, but he dedicated Tuesday’s show to two Tulsa men who helped influence his career: Tommy Tripplehorn and David Teegarden Sr. His set was a tribute to Americana. The low-key bluesman let his shimmering Fender Stratocaster do most of the storytelling. It stole the show. There was a magical moment in “I’ve Got A Rock and Roll Heart” when the crowd clapped during all the pauses and danced and shuffled in waves when he played.
The timing was impeccable. Clapton seemed to acknowledge it, grinning widely as he nodded toward the crowd.“Layla” was spellbinding in its simplicity. The Cream tune “Badge” thumped with heartache. The Robert Johnson classic “Little Queen of Spades” ripped piano and organ solos so fierce the crowd pulled back in its collective seat before boiling into applause. Clapton grabbed a chair and his acoustic guitar as his fingers skipped into “Nobody Knows You.” Fans clapped in time and hooted.
His interpretation of the Jimmy Cox-penned “Nobody Knows When You’re Down and Out,” sounded like it was written for Clapton. Its intimacy and pain explained the fleeting nature of wealth and friendship with few words.
Clapton made new friends and cemented old ones with Tuesday’s performance. Before launching into another Robert Johnson tune, “Crossroads,” the penultimate was possibly his trademark tune, “Cocaine,” penned by Oklahoman J.J. Cale.
His 90-minute set didn’t seem long enough.
Nor did his opening act’s. It’s not often that the opening act at any concert gets a standing ovation. But Clapton’s does. Especially when it’s Who frontman Roger Daltrey. In his 60s, Daltrey has a vast Who catalog from which to draw. His set included the classics “Behind Blue Eyes,” “The Real Me” and “I Can See For Miles.” “Who Are You” garnered a standing ovation and an ear-to-ear grin of appreciation from Daltrey. Electric keyboards twinkled and strobes blinked as he twirled his microphone in wide circles as he segued into “Baba O’Riley.”
A member of his backing band harmonized, kicked and chorded like Who bandmate Pete Townshend. It was Townshend’s brother Simon, who has toured with members from the band for years. The last time either act remembers playing Tulsa was decades ago. Daltrey and The Who opened for Herman’s Hermits in 1967, he estimated, and Clapton - well, the last shows he played here were small club jams decades ago.