Eric Clapton opens Detroit concert with 'God Save the Queen' at Little Caesars Arena

English guitarist Eric Clapton kicked off his Saturday Detroit show with an instrumental performance of “God Save the Queen,” in a reverential tribute to Queen Elizabeth II two days after her death.

It led a 17-song night that traversed the guitar great’s catalog for a near-capacity crowd at Little Caesars Arena. At 77, his fingers were nimble and his playing lithe despite a series of health ailments he has publicly discussed in recent years — including neuropathy that nearly forced him into retirement several years ago.

Saturday was his first Detroit visit since 2010, and it was part of a five-city U.S. run this month, in keeping with the short bursts of touring that have come to mark Clapton’s work pace. Last fall, he played another short run of U.S. dates, his first shows since the pandemic — during which he’d been one of the most vocal anti-lockdown advocates in the music world.

On Saturday’s no-frills, open-lit stage, Clapton served up his distinct licks and Stratocaster tones joined by a band that included several longtime accompanists. They had chances to put their own musical stamp on the proceedings, with guitarist Doyle Bramhall II contributing his own solos throughout and Chris Stainton wowing on electric piano during the band showcase “The Sky is Crying.”

The ensemble was rounded out by keyboardist-singer Paul Carrack, bassist Nathan East, drummer Sonny Emory and backing singer Sharon White. (Her vocal partner Katie Kissoon was missing Saturday with no reason offered.)

Eric Clapton performs at Little Caesars Arena in Detroit on Sept. 10, 2022.
Eric Clapton performs at Little Caesars Arena in Detroit on Sept. 10, 2022.

The set offered a try-to-please-everybody roundup of the various musical personas Clapton has adopted through the years: the hotshot guitar hero enamored with the blues (“I’m Your Hoochie Coochie Man,” “Cross Road Blues”), the groovy acid-rock pioneer (Cream’s “Badge”), the tender balladeer (“River of Tears”), the ‘70s album-rock heavyweight (“I Shot the Sheriff”), the ‘90s mainstream hitmaker (“Tears in Heaven”).

A sit-down segment gave Clapton a chance to work his thing on his Martin acoustic guitars, with “Layla” getting a laid-back treatment and “Tears in Heaven” interspersed with a bit of Procul Harum’s “Whiter Shade of Pale” — presumably a tribute to Clapton’s longtime friend Gary Brooker, who died in February.

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“Wonderful Tonight” offered its obligatory singalong moment for the couples inside LCA, while “Cocaine” closed the regular set with one of Saturday’s rare moments of gritty guitar sizzle.

Carrack, the well-traveled singer best known for his work with Squeeze and Mike + the Mechanics, took over lead vocals for the encore, a lively rendition of “High Time We Went” that saw show opener Jimmie Vaughan joining the festivities on guitar.

Given Clapton’s age, his scaled-back touring and his latest 12-year gap between Detroit dates, it’s conceivable that Saturday will wind up being the final Motor City concert of his career. If that turns out to be the case, fans will remember it as a warm, likable and reliably well-executed sendoff.

Contact Detroit Free Press music writer Brian McCollum: 313-223-4450 or bmccollum@freepress.com.

This article originally appeared on Detroit Free Press: Eric Clapton opens Detroit LCA show with 'God Save the Queen'