Adam Duvernay, News Editor
It’s difficult to age with grace in rock ‘n’ roll. Rock legends Eric Clapton and Roger Daltrey’s show Saturday in the New Orleans Arena demonstrated both the highs and lows of aging musicians. Playing to a packed arena, 64-year-old Clapton brought a simple stage, a three-piece backing group and two women straight from choir practice to support his vocals on such hits as “I Shot the Sheriff” and “Wonderful Tonight.” He also brought simple dignity.
Clapton spoke rarely but with appreciation for his audience and band. He performed casually, standing in place and keeping the focus on the music. He played the hits he knew people came to hear and generously churned out solo after solo. Each classic was peppered with elongated periods of the kind of playing expected after more than 40 years of touring. The arena was full of geriatric rock fans who had undoubtably seen Slowhand in his prime. Most were well dressed but still braved the Arena’s $9 beers and plastic cups of wine in rock ‘n’ roll spirit.
The nearly two-hour set was broken into three sessions: two parts electric and one part acoustic. Clapton’s first electric set included “Going Down Slow,” “Key to the Highway” and “Driftin’ Blues.” He settled down with an acoustic version of “Layla,” a change from the song’s original rapid-fire electric recording. He also played acoustic versions of “I’ve Got a Rock ‘n’ Roll Heart,” “Running on Faith” and “Badge.”
Clapton saved “Cocaine” for last and returned with “Crossroads,” the second Cream song of the night, for an encore. The audience was never kept waiting through petty monologue, and simple lighting and a minimalist setup kept the focus on the root of the performance: the talent of one of rock ‘n’ roll’s immortals.
Unfortunately, though perhaps unavoidably, Daltrey’s warm-up performance fundamentally lacked the spirit of his unforgivingly youth-advocating band The Who. Backed by a seemingly nameless band meant to replace three of rock ‘n’ roll’s greatest musicians, Daltrey was left alone with the sound of his own voice, too rough with cigarettes.
The audience was lucky enough to hear such classics as “Who Are You,” “I Can See for Miles” and “Behind Blue Eyes” - which, as Daltrey was kind enough to remind everyone, is not a Limp Bizkit cover. Relying on songs he started singing when he was 19, Daltrey seemed ancient flanked by his dimly lit support group. The man floppily spiraling his microphone around his head hardly looked like the Roger from Oz who destroyed his set and instruments on a live broadcast of the “Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour” in 1967 and changed how Americans looked at music forever.
It’s hard to watch rock legends die, but sometimes it’s harder to watch them keep on keeping on.