New York – September 8 – 10, 2017
Sometimes the planets align in life and produce magic. So it was that arrival in New York last week coincided with the appearance of a trio of legends: Roger Waters, Eric Clapton and Pete Townshend. Another day there and we could have added Paul McCartney to that list and in the next few days it will be Van Morrison in Nashville during Americana. No one ever goes away!
As it was, the three veterans that we did get to see provided concerts of vastly differing natures, reflective of their own careers. It was interesting to observe the changes – and sometimes lack of them – after all these decades.
Roger Waters – The Prudential Center, Newark – Thursday September 7, 2017
It is a sure bet that Roger Waters will not be on Donald Trump’s Christmas card list. After his diatribe against the incumbent President on Pink Floyd’s ‘Pigs,’ mid-way through what was one of the most spectacular shows I have ever seen, it occurred to me that some countries wouldn’t allow this to happen! Yet the lyrics were still apt (if your views are to the left, of course): “Big man, pig man / Ha, ha, charade you are / You well-heeled big wheel / Ha, ha, charade you are / And when your hand is on your heart / You’re nearly a good laugh / Almost a joker / With your head down in the pig bin….”
With photos and quotes from Trump superimposed on the screens it was hard to miss the message but just in case you did, as the song closed the words ‘Trump Is A Pig’ were flashed up. It seemed that a few people walked out in protest but the number was minimal and they could have been going for more beer!
Originally released 40 years on Pink Floyd’s Animals the song could have been written this year; which probably explains why George Orwell’s 1984 is selling like hotcakes in bookstores all over America.
The show had been moving towards this moment during the first set which featured selections from Dark Side of The Moon and The Wall. As ‘Another Brick In The Wall’ started Waters was joined by 10 children in prison uniforms which were later removed to reveal t-shirts with the slogan ‘Resist.’ There was no mistaking the message here.
Some years ago, on the BBC program Hard Talk, Waters confessed to feeling ambivalent towards his departure from Pink Floyd, especially when he was playing in small theatres and David Gilmour and his old band were playing arenas. Now, having assembled another outfit that can reproduce the Pink Floyd classics, Waters seems to have no trouble dealing with his back catalogue. This is just as well because no one seemed very interested when he included several songs from his latest album Is This The Life We Really Want? even though they were very much in the old Floyd mould and sounded excellent.
Special mention must go to guitarist/vocalist Jonathan Wilson who assumed a major role in the production and helped to add something really special to many of the guitar solos, while keeping an unassuming presence on stage.
If the first set had catered to Floyd fans musically, the second set catered to their sense of theatricality and opened with a huge rectangular multi-part screen being lowered from the ceiling, flashing pictures and messages such as ‘Please help we are trapped in a dystopian nightmare.’ There was also the famous inflatable pig ‘flying’ around carrying Trump’s image on its back.
If ‘Pigs’ was not overt enough then ‘Money,’ with its accompanying images of trump and Putin, left no doubt about Waters’ political views. It will be interesting to see if he changes or adapts the message when he reaches Australia early next year.
But it wasn’t all about politics. The show closed with ‘Us and Them,’ ‘Smell The Roses’ (from the latest solo album) and finally ‘Brain Damage’ and ‘Eclipse.’ If you are a Pink Floyd fan you would have been overjoyed with Waters’ interpretations and it is just about the closest we will ever get to seeing the Floyd.
The other sure bet is that there will not be a more spectacular show in Australia next year!
Eric Clapton – Madison Square Garden, New York – Friday September 8, 2017
Last year Eric Clapton announced that he was suffering from ‘incurable damage to his nervous system’ that was making it difficult for him to play guitar; so, the expectation was that this might be one of the final occasions we see Clapton on tour.
Last time I saw Clapton was at this very venue in 2012 for the Crossroads Festival (the last one, as it turned out) – an absolute feast for guitar nuts (who would have also been pleased this evening with sets from Jimmie Vaughan and Gary Clark Jr to open the show).
In the intervening five years it doesn’t seem that Clapton’s powers have diminished markedly; he still has that beautifully deft touch and he can rip out tasteful solos at will. Never one for playing too many notes – rather making sure he played the ones he did with panache – the style might be a little more economical but is no less impressive if you have been a fan of his playing. There are plenty of technically brilliant players out there but they lack Clapton’s feel and soul.
Opening with JJ Cale’s ‘Somebody’s Knocking,’ Clapton meandered through a blues heavy set that paid tribute to his influences and inspirations while throwing in some of the ‘hits.’ ‘Key to the Highway’ was followed by Willie Dixon’s ‘I’m Your Hoochie Coochie Man’ then Bob Marley’s ‘I Shot the Sheriff’ and an acoustic version of the classic ‘Driftin’ Blues.’ The acoustic mood continued with ‘Lay Down Sally,’ a very tasty rendition of ‘Nobody Knows You When You’re Down and Out’ and then ‘Layla’ (which I would have preferred to be an electric version but maybe because I am a Derek and the Dominos fan).
‘Tears in Heaven,’ the guitarist’s biggest hit, was a mandatory inclusion, I suppose, and a crowd favourite – as was ‘Wonderful Tonight’ – but thankfully things got back into gear with the electric guitar on ‘White Room’ ramping up the tempo.
Clapton’s band is made for this sort of thing with veteran maestro Chris Stainton on piano (while Walt Richmond is on keyboards), Nathan East on bass and vocals and Steve Gadd on drums. This band can rock with the best as it showed throughout the evening.
‘Cross Road Blues’ and ‘Little Queen of Spades’ paid homage to Robert Johnson and JJ Cale’s ‘Cocaine’ finally got the crowd on their feet. Cream’s ‘Sunshine of Your Love’ was a nice surprise prior to the encore which had Clapton sharing guitar parts with Jimmie Vaughan and Gary Clark Jr on Bo Diddley’s ‘Before You Accuse Me.’
While the concert never attained stellar heights – and I think an electric ‘Layla’ would have helped – it was a fitting tribute to Clapton’s talent. Billed as A Celebration of 50 Years of Music it did just that; albeit in a lower key than usual. My only quibble is that I would have loved to have heard Clapton giving a brief intro to some of the songs and explaining why he chose them (though I guess most fans already know).
It would be a pity of this is Clapton’s final tour but if it is he has left a mighty legacy.
Pete Townshend’s Quadrophenia – Lincoln Center, Saturday September 9, 2017
Last year’s Jazz Fest featured a rejuvenated Who with Roger Daltrey sounding superb and Pete Townshend obviously enjoying playing guitar with the trademark windmill arm motions. It was a fairly amazing experience – even more so than seeing the Rolling Stones – to witness this band still out on tour (albeit with only two of the original members) after more than 50 years.
It was even more unlikely to witness the Metropolitan Opera performance of Quadrophenia, the Who’s second rock opera next to Tommy, now more than 44 years since its original release. Not only that, here was Townshend himself taking a break from touring The Who and sharing the stage with Alfie Boe and Billy Idol.
This show not only contained additional orchestration and extensions of the album’s instrumental interludes (now scored by Rachel Fuller) but also a full orchestra and 71-voice choir. There seemed barely room to fit the singers on stage.
More complex than Tommy and far more ambitious in its storyline, Quadrophenia was apparently much more difficult to tour despite the fact that it was commercially successful and produced several hit singles, including ‘Love Reign O’er Me’ and ‘5.15.’
One can imagine Townshend’s frustration then and his delight now is obvious in being able to realise the production of what might be a superior work to Tommy and one that often seems more satisfying.
Tenor Alfie Boe took about thirty seconds to enthral the audience with his immersion in the songs and his stage movements – enthusiastic to say the least – were met with cheers. When he theatrically launched into ‘The Real Me’ the crowd went ballistic; his skill as a performer in several high-profile stage musicals (including Les Miserables) obviously informing his performance here. Equally theatrical was Billy Idol whose entries and exits were greeted with loud cheers.
Townshend, looking fit and happy, played the role of the main character Jimmy’s father and, in fact, not only sounded good but also brought out some dance steps. He played acoustic guitar on a few songs, including ‘I’m The One’ (practising the windmill) though it would have been really interesting to hear how an electric guitar might fit into this setting. (I occasionally yearned for that).
Divided into two sets the concert reached its climax with a powerful version of ‘Love Reign O’er Me’ and an encore of ‘The Real Me’ by which point the audience was as involved as the performers.
It was an evening I never thought I would see and one I will not soon forget. After several more performances in Los Angeles, Townshend is back on the road with Roger Daltrey in The Who. More power to him!
Roger Waters Set List – Prudential Center – Thursday September 7, 2017
Speak to Me
One of These Days
The Great Gig in the Sky
Welcome to the Machine
When We Were Young (Waters)
Déjà Vu (Waters)
The Last Refugee
Picture That (Waters)
Wish You Were Here
The Happiest Days of Our Lives
Another Brick in the Wall Part 2
Another Brick in the Wall Part 3
Pigs (Three Different Ones)
Us and Them
Smell the Roses (Waters)
Eclipse (Pink Floyd song)
Eric Clapton Set List – Madison Square Garden – Friday September 8, 2017
Somebody’s Knocking (J.J. Cale)
Key to the Highway (Charles Segar)
I’m Your Hoochie Coochie Man (Willie Dixon)
I Shot the Sheriff (Bob Marley)
Driftin’ Blues (Johnny Moore’s Three Blazers cover) (acoustic)
Lay Down Sally (acoustic)
Nobody Knows You When You’re Down and Out (Jimmy Cox cover) (acoustic)
Layla (Derek and the Dominos song) (acoustic)
Tears in Heaven (acoustic)
White Room (Cream)
Cross Road Blues (Robert Johnson)
Little Queen of Spades (Robert Johnson)
Cocaine (J.J. Cale)
Sunshine of Your Love (Cream)
Before You Accuse Me (Bo Diddley) (with Jimmie Vaughn & Gary Clark Jr.)
Pete Townshend’s Quadrophenia Set List – Lincoln Center – Saturday September 9, 2017
I Am the Sea
The Real Me
Cut My Hair
The Punk and the Godfather
The Dirty Jobs
Is It in My Head?
I’ve Had Enough
Sea and Sand
Love, Reign O’er Me
The Real Me