It felt good to have the blues last night. Eric Clapton opened his two-night stand at the TD Banknorth Garden with a show that ran from cool blue to red hot, and both temperatures were just right.
Fronting a ferocious but never messy eight-person band, the still vital 61-year-old guitar deity played a two-hour set that stretched back 36 years for a trio of tunes from his days with Derek and the Dominoes, hopscotched through highlights of his '70s solo heyday, and touched on the Robert Johnson songs that still clearly provide him sustenance.
The Rock and Roll Hall of Famer has a couple of young lions on tour with him . Allman Brothers ace Derek Trucks was the picture of serene concentration, sliding into solos and improvising with Clapton as if his bottleneck was soaked with the grease of a thousand juke joints. Doyle Bramhall II broke out the wah-wah on ``Got to Get Better in a Little While" as a tasteful guitar orgy marked almost all 17 songs in the set .
The night's peak came on Johnson's ``Little Queen of Spades," as each guitarist confidently strutted his stuff, with Clapton getting as good as he gave.
A brief but exquisite acoustic segment served as a welcome respite from the guitar pyrotechnics. On the set's newest song, ``Back Home," from his 2005 album of that title, Clapton matched his melancholy yet hopeful vocals to Trucks's tender acoustic picking.
Trucks then pulled out his electric for the sultry, almost tropical ``I Am Yours," inching up his fretboard and conjuring the sweetest caress as drummer Steve Jordan tapped out a breezy backbeat. ``Unplugged" favorites ``Nobody Knows You (When You're Down and Out)" and ``Running on Faith" closed out the mini-set.
``Wonderful Tonight" had the whiff of the obligatory as even Clapton put the ballad to bed with the barest of solos before slamming into the galvanizing opening riff of ``Layla" that got most in the well-mannered, nearly sold-out crowd of 13,024 out of their seats.
An agreeably grimy ``Cocaine" closed the regular set before a recognizable tribal groove announced the encore of ``Crossroads." Opener Robert Cray returned to trade verses and licks with Clapton.
In a recent interview Clapton claimed that at 61 his prowess is on the decline. There was no evidence of that last night.