British legend Eric Clapton pays tribute to Queen Elizabeth during show in Columbus

Eric Clapton took the stage in Value City Arena Thursday night mere hours after Queen Elizabeth II died after 70 years reigning over his native England. Rather than engage his six backing musicians, the rock icon eased into a simple, impromptu solo reading of “God Save The Queen.” It didn’t sound as if he had worked out the melody ahead of time and the effect was quite touching.

Interestingly, though, the melody is the same as “America (My Country ‘tis Of Thee),” one of the de facto American national anthems before “The Star-Spangled Banner” became the official anthem in 1931.

It is likely Clapton’s choice had a deeper significance, as he is married to an American from Columbus and maintains a residence here. Given the special relationship of the two countries, Clapton’s act served as a communal expression of loss.

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Which could serve to explain the muted tone and low energy at the beginning of his set. Then again, maybe it was hesitancy due to the concert kicking off his new American tour after nearly three months off after his recent European tour.

The set proper kicked off with “Tearing Us Apart” and a solid but not exceptional solo from the master guitarist. (Clapton can be impressive doing this in his sleep.) Though for this and the next several songs Clapton seemed more engaged in his vocals, the initial mix was muddied and the singer’s singing was buried deep.

With “River Of Tears,” a song he wrote about the tragic death of his young son, Clapton seemed to connect with a sweet, passionate reading.

Eric Clapton performing Thursday night in Value City Arena.
Eric Clapton performing Thursday night in Value City Arena.

But Willie Dixon’s “Hoochie Coochie Man” was bereft of the drama and danger of Muddy Waters’ signature recording, despite an explosive slide guitar solo from Doyle Bramhall II.

“I Shot The Sheriff” provided the evening’s first magic, as Clapton played a fine, mysterious solo during a quiet part in the arrangement.

Setting up for the mini acoustic set, Clapton referenced the Queen, mentioning the “dear lady’s” coronation and lamenting that she would take tea “no more.” Then he sang the classic “Driftin’ Blues,” perhaps suggesting the national uncertainty that might follow the Queen’s death.

Clapton shines on acoustic set

The first couple tunes of the acoustic set featured a hollow body guitar with a pickup that amplified the instrument’s natural fuzzy tone, while the second part employed a standard acoustic with pickup. The rasp of the former added a bit of edge, while the soft tone of the latter lent a laid-back dreamy quality to the sweet rendition of “Layla.”

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The real energy finally kicked in with the reading of “Badge,” a song that Clapton rocked hard with just a three-piece named Cream years ago but Thursday required a septet to set it on fire. The extended jam featured fine contributions from Clapton’s band of stars, which included Brahmall on guitar, pianist Chris Stainton of Joe Cocker’s mighty Grease Band, Paul Carrack of Squeeze, bassist Nathan East, drummer Sonny Emory, and singer/percussionist Katie Kisson.

The encore of “Before You Accuse Me” featured veteran blues and R&B guitarist Jimmie Vaughan, who with his Tilt-A-Whirl Band opened the show.

Vaughan, a veteran of the famed Fabulous Thunderbirds, has spent a lifetime honing his craft in clubs. His band sounded like it had, as well, with a sound that was as raw as possible in a large venue and a songbook that touched on instrumental classics and blues staples. With a 40 minute set, Vaughan and company threw down a mighty challenge for the superstar.

This article originally appeared on The Columbus Dispatch: Eric Clapton kicked off his Amerian tour Thursday at Value City Arena