Eric Clapton Opens Tour With Tribute to Robbie Robertson

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Eric Clapton and his band performing “The Shape I’m In,” Pittsburgh, PA, Sept. 8, 2023

Eric Clapton began his brief 2023 North American tour on Friday night (September 8) with a pair of songs in tribute to his friend, Robbie Robertson, The Band’s lead guitarist and songwriter who died August 9 at age 80. The two classic rock legends had a long mutual admiration and respect for each other. When The Band were inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame in 1994, it was Clapton who gave the induction speech. When Clapton first discovered the group’s music, he was in awe. “When I went to visit The Band in Woodstock, and I really sort of went there to ask if I could join The Band, and I didn’t have the guts to say it!” In the 2019 documentary film, Once Were Brothers: Robbie Robertson and The Band, Clapton said, “Music From Big Pink changed my life,” later adding, “I was in great awe of their brotherhood.”

At the PPG Paints Arena in Pittsburgh, PA—the first of five concerts he’s doing this month, Clapton opened with The Band’s “The Shape I’m In” that included a spirited solo, with the house lights on, and followed it with “It Makes No Difference.” As the latter ended, Clapton said, simply, “Robbie Robertson.”

Clapton then turned to more familiar territory, offering “Key to the Highway” and “I Shot the Sheriff.” A five-song acoustic, seated set followed with such tracks as “Nobody Knows You When You’re Down and Out” and “Call Me the Breeze,” followed by “Layla” and “Tears in Heaven.”

The 16-song concert continued with another electric set that included “Cross Road Blues,” “Little Queen of Spades” and “Cocaine.”

Clapton, who turned 78 on March 30, did a residency at the Budokan in Tokyo, Japan in April and organized a pair of tribute concerts for Jeff Beck that were held on May 22-23 at London’s Royal Albert Hall. Tickets for most of other September shows are available here. Clapton will be hosting a Crossroads Guitar Festival later this month, his first since 2019. Robertson was an occasional guest performer at some of the earlier festivals.

Eric Clapton and Robbie Robertson, following their performance of “I Shall Be Released” at the 2013 Crossroads Guitar Festival

2023 marks Clapton’s 60th year as a professional musician. The legendary guitarist joined The Yardbirds in 1963 and the following years saw him join John Mayall’s Bluesbreakers, Cream, Blind Faith, Delaney & Bonnie & Friends, and Derek and the Dominos along with a solo career spanning five decades.

Watch Clapton induct The Band into the Rock Hall in 1994

Watch a performance clip of The Band from Once Were Brothers: Robbie Robertson and The Band that also includes an interview with Clapton.

Watch Clapton perform “Further On Up the Road” with The Band during the concert, The Last Waltz

Best Classic Bands Staff

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