Eric Clapton and Steve Winwood, 6.29.09

What can be said about the most talented guitarist of all time and the most underrated instrumentalist of all time? Well, first of all, that those declarations are not that controversial. Once you see Clapton play a guitar, once you hear Winwood play a piano, your doubts fade. Eric Clapton is real rock-n-roll because he actually cares about the music, and it’s evident in the way he plays. He wears no glitter, he does no pushups (after all, he’s 64!) and his voice cracks sometimes. He could be the guy next door, and that’s because he is. The only difference is that he can rip a guitar to shreds without even shredding it. He’s got the blues.

I can’t say I remember much of the setlist from the night. There was “Layla,” Unplugged-style; there was “Presence of the Lord,” hearkening back to the duo’s time as Blind Faith; there was even an encore rendition of “Cocaine,” my personal favorite Clapton tune. What I can remember is how fast Clapton’s hands moved, and yet how effortlessly they glided. He played melodies that haven’t existed until now, and yet he’s over 40 years into his career. He never repeats a note sequence because it’s not in his mind to do so. Reading his book, Clapton you realize that he’s able to play that way from a deep part of his soul. He breathes six strings, twelve strings, whatever, and there’s a sadness in his music that lingers even after he cleaned up and got married. Amidst all that, he’s still gotten better with age. His voice has gravelled, his hands have wrinkled and yet they combine magically.

Winwood is equally touching, mostly because you can see in his face (Conan O’Brien, have a look at your future — it’s a good one, I assure you) how happy he is to display his true talent. It’s not synthesizer tracks like “Higher Love” or “Roll With It” — it’s a deep blues/jazz piano style that you have to see to believe. Winwood’s tinny pop voice steps aside for his real tenor, which also aches of the blues but in a different way. Like Clapton speaks with his guitar, Winwood speaks with the keys and guitar too, and he’s able to smash any preconceived notions that Clapton is the star of the show. They work together perfectly, their voices are similar but not identical and blend honestly. They are legends, and I say truthfully that it was an honor to be in the same room with them, even if that room was Oracle Arena in Oakland.