Dallas To look at Eric Clapton from the neck up Tuesday night, one would've thought he wanted to be anywhere other than where he was. An expressionless face sporting a thousand-yard stare, betraying no evidence of how he felt to be on stage before an adoring audience at the American Airlines Center.
Glance at his body from the shoulders down, however, and it was a wholly different story. Restless hands working acoustic and electric guitars with equal fervor, his fingers setting off fretboard fireworks at regular intervals. Even his legs -- occasionally bracing the 67-year-old singer-songwriter against a squall of notes -- appeared animated.
Perhaps his upper half was merely reflecting what he told Rolling Stone last month, that he plans to stop touring when he turns 70 in three years, citing the wear and tear of traveling. If Clapton does indeed call it a day on the road, it's a shame, as Tuesday's two hour-plus performance was a dynamic showcase for his multitude of sonic styles. Touring behind his just-released LP Old Sock, Clapton didn't feature much from the record, instead roaming the breadth of his back catalog and, of course, paying homage to the bluesmen he so reveres.
The British rock legend also generously ceded the spotlight to his ace backing band, which featured Doyle Bramhall II on guitar; Steve Jordan on drums; Greg Leisz on pedal steel and ex-Squeeze vocalist Paul Carrack on keyboards (Carrack even had the opportunity to air out a couple Squeeze tunes during the main set). Each member displayed an off-hand brilliance that was breathtaking: Bramhall's scorching solo during Little Queen of Spades was stunning, while Leisz artfully draped pedal steel behind an acoustic take on Layla that brought the classic rock tune into Nashville city limits.
As Clapton cranked up Sunshine of Your Love for the encore, it felt simultaneously thrilling and grinding. And that, in essence, is the dichotomy the man finds himself wrestling with at this stage of his career. For every moment of musical transcendence, there must be another, more punishing moment of unavoidable reality.
After a half century of making crowds roar and his fingers dance along the necks of his guitars, maybe Eric Clapton has decided the cost is too high. We are the poorer for it.