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Friday, March 16, 2007 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Music

An evening with Clapton: great music, guaranteed

Seattle Times music critic

Concert preview


Eric Clapton, Robert Cray 7:30 p.m. Thursday, KeyArena, Seattle Center; $65-$85 (206-628-0888 or www.ticketmaster.com; information, 206-684-7200, www.seattlecenter.com or www.ericclapton.com).

After 50 years of concertgoing, you don't expect to experience one of the greatest shows of your life when you're in your 60s.

But that's what happened in 2004 when I saw Eric Clapton at KeyArena.

It did not come as a complete surprise, because I had seen Clapton at least a dozen times in the past and have always been impressed.

But his playing that night was particularly amazing, showing how expressive the electric guitar can be in the right hands. He obviously loved playing the blues, and featured lots of Robert Johnson songs, as he was touring behind his then-new, all-Johnson album, "Me and Mr. Johnson."

He brought new life to his classics, too, including "Layla" — which he somehow made fresh and new — "I Shot the Sheriff" and "Have You Ever Loved a Woman."

His singing was sweeter than ever, showing that, over the years, his vocals have become as strong as his guitar-playing. His "Wonderful Tonight" was as fine a vocal as I've ever heard from a rock star.

Clapton was ably served, and must have been inspired, by a great band. The musicians obviously were pumped to be playing with such a master. What a pleasure it was to watch an ensemble of great musicians playing together as one.

Clapton plays again here Thursday night at KeyArena. Opening is one of his acolytes, singer-guitarist Robert Cray, a former Tacoma resident whose career got started in Seattle clubs in the late '70s.

Even if Thursday's show is not as good as that 2004 one — and, of course, it could even be better — the night will be significant because it may be his last show here. Although Clapton has not said so, there is speculation that this may be his farewell tour, because he has arthritis in his hands and playing is becoming more and more painful.

He could have an ordinary night, too. But even that would be well worth the price of admission.

Patrick MacDonald: 206-464-2312 or pmacdonald@seattletimes.com

Copyright © 2007 The Seattle Times Company

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