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Friday, March 23, 2007 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Corrected version

Concert Review

Clapton, guitar god for the ages, is an idol worthy of worship

Seattle Times music critic

It sounded especially sweet hearing Eric Clapton play a touching, beautiful version of "Little Wing" here in the hometown of its writer, and our own guitar hero, Jimi Hendrix, Thursday night at a packed KeyArena. The great English guitarist, a contemporary of Hendrix in 1960s London, opened the song with his own interpretation of, and homage to, Hendrix's honeyed original.

The song came after a seamless, three-song, show-opening volley of bluesy rock. It kicked off with "Tell the Truth" (with Clapton's first blistering solo), "Key to the Highway" (a showcase for his fine singing voice) and an extended "Got to Get Better In a Little While" (with Clapton and a second guitarist, Doyle Bramhall II, trading licks, and drum and guitar solos).

Clapton was mostly in a bluesy mood. Delta blues, slow blues, blues-rock, it was all there. The seven-piece band, including two keyboardists and two background singers, all got substantial solos and played with energy, passion and skill. The organ and piano solos were especially rich and soulful.

But some of the best moments were rock and pop songs. The slow and romantic "Wonderful Tonight" was beautifully sung. A long, layered "Layla," the last song in the set, ignited the crowd, as always.

Bur before those hits, late in the set, came the blues.

"Why Does Love Got to Be So Sad" was the essence of bittersweet #&8212; anguished lyrics delivered on lively rhythms. "Further On Up the Road" was like that, too.

Clapton sat down to solo on the classic slow blues, "Driftin' and Driftin.'" He stayed seated for "Baby What You Want Me To Do," joined by the other musicians.

"Nobody Loves You (When You're Down and Out)" and "Motherless Children," both old classics, were transformed through Clapton's spare, fine solos.

The Robert Cray Band opened with a too-short set. The former Tacoma native, who got his start in Seattle clubs 20 years ago, sang better than ever and still is among the finest blues guitarists in the world.

Fortunately, Cray returned to the stage at the end of the show to join Clapton for an encore. They traded guitar licks and vocals on "Crossroads." The encore started with the cautionary "Cocaine," an extended jam featuring the whole band and two backup singers.

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

Information in this article, originally published March 23, 2007, was corrected March 24, 2007. A previous version of this story misidentified guitarist Doyle Bramhall II as Derek Trucks. Trucks left the tour on Sunday.

Copyright © 2007 The Seattle Times Company

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