Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (February 10, 2003)
Because I’d like for you to stay awake for the rest of the review, I won’t go into many details, but back in college, I came up with a nine-tier system to rate my interest in musical artists. Tier Five equals totally neutrality, and it follows a bell-shaped curve; one absolute fave ends up at Tier One, while one totally loathed artist lands on Tier Nine. Everyone else falls in between, and the farther I go in either direction from Tier Five, the more passionate I feel about the act.
For me, Eric Clapton offers a near perfect example of a Tier Four performer. I regard his music with moderately positive emotions, but I can’t muster any real enthusiasm about his work. I saw Clapton live three times in the Eighties but haven’t taken in any of his shows since then, and my music collection only includes Crossroads, the four-disc boxed set that spanned his career until 1988.
Yup, that’s Tier Four for you: I like the artist to some degree, but I feel no particular fervor. Despite that lack of zeal, I decided to give Clapton’s new concert video a look. It seemed to provide an interesting set list, so I thought it might merit my time.
Just as Clapton provides a near perfect example of a Tier Four performer, One More Car, One More Rider gives us a near perfect example of How to Create a Concert Video. I watched Car immediately after I screened Paul McCartney’s Back in the US. To state that I greatly prefer McCartney’s music to Clapton’s would be an extreme understatement. To state that I greatly prefer Car to US would also be an extreme understatement, as the Clapton video does virtually everything right and makes the McCartney piece look even crummier by comparison.
US leaves out songs from the concert, edits parts out of some numbers, puts the remaining tracks in the wrong order, shows too many shots of extraneous material and chops it up into a big mess. The result seems annoying and pointless, and it only serves to exasperate the viewer.
Car, on the other hand, provides a model of simplicity and efficiency. For one, the DVD offers the entire 20-song concert performed at Los Angeles’ Staples Center on August 18, 2001. Director Danny O’Bryen presents all these songs in their entirety, as we find no butchered or altered numbers. Instead, we see and hear the music just the same as the audience who attended the concert.
Speaking of whom, we rarely see the crowd during Car. Whereas the McCartney video poured on a ridiculous number of audience shots, Car avoids them for the most part. I don’t think we saw the crowd at all until “Cocaine”, and though we got a few examples after that, the program still refrained from too many spectator images.
I regard that as a good thing, for I don’t want to watch the audience. I want to see the concert, and Car clearly represents the on-stage action. O’Bryen depicts the performance with tasteful simplicity that suits the music. Clapton put on a fairly low-key show, and the pacing and staging match that. O’Bryen resists the urge to artificially spice up the proceedings with silly effects or rapid cuts. Instead, we get a nicely concise presentation that works well for the material.
Indeed, I’d really love Car except for one thing: the music. As I already mentioned, I went into this viewing with fairly luke-warm feelings toward Clapton, and nothing on Car altered my opinions.
Taken from his 2001 tour behind the Reptile album, Car includes only three songs from that album. We get the title track plus “Got You On My Mind” and “I Want a Little Girl”. From 2000’s Riding with the King we find “Key to the Highway”, and then we move back to 1998’s Pilgrim for “My Father’s Eyes”, “River of Tears”, “Going Down Slow” and “She’s Gone”. (Yes, it seems odd that this older album presents more numbers than the then-current Reptile.) “Change the World” came from a 1996 single, while “Hoochie Coochie Man” showed up on 1994’s From the Cradle and “Tears in Heaven” appeared on the hit 1992 Unplugged album.
After that, we must leap back to the Seventies for the next most recent songs. Both “Cocaine” and “Wonderful Tonight” came from 1977’s Slowhand, while “Layla”, “Bell Bottom Blues” and “Have You Ever Loved a Woman” all stemmed from 1970’s classic Derek and the Dominos release, Layla and Other Assorted Love Songs. (“Woman” also showed up back in the Sixties during Clapton’s days with John Mayall’s Bluesbreakers.) We get two tunes from Clapton’s time with Cream: “Sunshine of Your Love” from 1967’s Disraeli Gears and “Badge” off of 1969’s Goodbye.
Finally, Car includes a couple of semi-oddities. Clapton covers “Over the Rainbow” for what appears to be the first time on record, and we also get one guest performance. In addition, organ player Billy Preston performs his own “Will It Go Round In Circles”.
Though the setlist offers a nice mix of old, new, and fairly obscure, the performances essentially blend all the tunes together in a somewhat unsatisfying manner. Everything about this show screams “low-key”, and not much energy infuses it most of the time. Clapton starts the concert with a solo acoustic version of “Key to the Highway”, and the pace doesn’t pick up a whole lot after that. The band joins him for the following five songs, but those numbers fall into the old “unplugged” format. Clapton continues to sit on his stool as he and the others put out gentle versions of these tunes. Of that bunch, “Bell Bottom Blues” stands out as a winner; the song fits the setting well. “Reptile”, on the other hand, provides little more than meandering pseudo-jazz instrumental nonsense.
Once Clapton proves that he can stand with “My Father’s Eyes” and he straps on his electric guitar, one might expect matters to heat up, but instead, the show remains fairly somnambulant. A few numbers stand out from the crowd, however. “River of Tears” roils to a lively ending that makes it show some punch, and “She’s Gone” also manages a few instances of bite. Billy Preston’s “Will It Go Round In Circles” provides some much-needed bounce to the proceedings, mainly due to the performer’s bouncy presence.
Otherwise, Car maintains a distinctly logy air, as most of the songs seem to blend together. Even hits like “Layla”, “Badge” and “Cocaine” get the same bland treatment. They all provide a generally bluesy sound, but this feels like the blues as practiced on VH-1. Ever since his success with his MTV Unplugged album, Clapton became an easy listening king, and that tendency continues on Car. Didn’t this guy used to be a blues/rock guitarist?
To be fair, Clapton’s guitar playing remains crisp and tight, and he enjoys a solid band here that includes notables like organist Billy Preston and former Springsteen/Sting/Peter Gabriel sideman keyboardist David Sancious. However, they all mush together as well, as none of them provide much spark. For reasons unknown, Sancious often plays this weird blow-tube device through his keyboard, which actively harms the songs on which it appears. For example, a fairly smooth and attractive version of “Wonderful Tonight” suffers from a rambling blow-tube solo at its end. I never much cared for that song, but even its modest charms disappear when confronted with this poor musical choice.
I want to like One More Car, One More Rider, for I feel very pleased with the concise and natural presentation of the concert. However, Eric Clapton recasts his music in such a bland and generic manner that much of it mushes together. Clapton covered a lot of different styles throughout his career, but you’ll not know that from this indistinct presentation that makes almost all the songs sound the same.
Odd credits note: although the DVD’s inside flap lists keyboardist Greg Phillinganes as part of the band, I never saw him. Maybe the sleepy tone of the music caused me to nod off during his parts, but I didn’t see any evidence of keyboardists other than Preston and Sancious. Weird!