The Return Of Slowhand: Eric Clapton’s Rainbow Concerts

After an interval the band return to the Rainbow Theatre stage with one striking difference, Clapton had switched to a Gibson. And not any old Gibson, Lucy, the now famous red Les Paul he used to record the solo for While My Guitar Gently Weeps on the White Album by The Beatles. A guitar he originally bought and gave to George Harrison. How he came to play it at this particular show I don’t know but it’s fitting, and the overall quality of his playing improved as a result.

Late Show:

  1. Layla
  2. Badge
  3. Blues Power
  4. Nobody Knows You When You’re Down And Out
  5. Roll It Over
  6. Why Does Love Got To Be So Sad?
  7. Little Wing
  8. Bottle Of Red Wine
  9. Presence Of The Lord
  10. Tell The Truth
  11. Pearly Queen
  12. Key To The Highway
  13. Let It Rain
  14. Crossroads
  15. Layla

Apart from one or two song changes, the set for the late show is the same as the early show with the band once again opening with Layla. Sadly the majority of the song is missing but the coda itself is present with Ronnie Wood playing Duane Allman’s slide part wonderfully, and at times, note for note. The band then launch into Badge which is definitely a far superior performance than the one during the early show, with Clapton appearing to take things up a notch on guitar. The (at times) slopping playing is gone and is replaced by someone who is far more confident in their own abilities. The exact same thing can be said for Blues Power which sees Clapton demolish those before him in a Dominos like solo performance. In fact there are a couple of phrases that he plays here that are reminiscent of his time during the Dominos. As someone who is writing a biography on Derek and the Dominos I am familiar with all of their known bootleg recordings, and I can definitely hear parts of the Fillmore East performance during this version. Outstanding, Clapton finally shining as though the previous two and half years never happened! It’s an exciting performance of Blues Power and arguably his best outing on guitar since that last Derek and the Dominos show on the 6th December 1970. He’s in control of the guitar, the confidence is flowing, he’s leading, things he hadn’t done in so long.

Nobody Knows You When You’re Down And Out, like during the early show, is the fourth song and features Steve Winwood on vocals once again. The song starts a lot better and continues at a steady pace until it’s end. As much as I like the song (especially the version by Derek and the Dominos) it’s a little lacklustre here and I can’t quite put my finger on why. Thankfully it’s followed by Roll It Over which continues to be a highlight after the early show and just like Blues Power a few songs earlier, it’s an incredible performance. Clapton once again shows improvement on lead vocals to the point where it could very well be a Derek and the Dominos performance and that continues with Why Does Love Got To Be So Sad? which follows. Clapton’s first solo just over a minute and a half in is sublime, his decision to switch to a Les Paul was definitely the right now. He didn’t sound bad using Blackie during the early show but using a Gibson certainly improved his tone and playing during this show. Ronnie Wood takes a solo himself and then Clapton comes in again for a Clapton/Allman style guitar duel which sounds so great on the original Layla album version. Pete Townshend remains on rhythm guitar and provides both Clapton and Wood a firm ground to play over which sounds fantastic. Little Wing contains the same explosiveness of the two previous Derek and the Dominos numbers, which the band play next, lasting a full minute longer than the version played at the early show.

The explosive Bottle Of Red Wine is definitely one of the highlights from this late show with the three guitars leading the charge and setting the tone. They are so good that at times you feel like the drumming is having a hard time keeping up, not due to any lack of ability, but the guitars (paired with Ric Grech on bass) drive this song along perfectly. After Midnight and Bell Bottom Blues are both dropped during this show with the band moving on to Presence Of The Lord. Steve Winwood’s mistake in the early show has been corrected and the band sound stunning. The presence of three guitars makes the song sound a lot bigger than the original version by Blind Faith which of course only featured Clapton on guitar. Tell The Truth follows which is more or less the same as the earlier performance, but then Pearly Queen comes along which is certainly louder and more confident sounding. Winwood sounds fantastic on lead vocals here with some tasty guitar solos added for our enjoyment. I can only imagine what it would have been being present at the venue for this performance.

Les Mitchell (Audience Member)

“The first time I saw Eric was at the Crawdaddy in the back room of the Star pub London Road Croydon. He had only been with them for three weeks, taking over from Top Topham. I was then hooked on the Yardbirds. Time passes. We knew that Eric had this nasty smack problem, so when the Rainbow gig was announced I just had to go. I don’t remember how or who sorted the tickets for me, but I got four for the second session. Front row of the balcony upstairs – right in the centre. Not bad.

The second set was obviously the one to be at, hopefully any problems would have been ironed out. It’s difficult to remember in detail but the band were well sorted. I was very impressed with Ronnie Wood who can often get a bit carried away but was controlled and glanced regularly toward Steve Winwood, just checking. The warmth in The Rainbow was overwhelming, a mixture of “we’re going to hear and see Eric play again” and “please let this work.” Plus – and you have to bare in mind that I’m an old hippie – love. I reckon it took off with Nobody Knows You. Very moving and I felt Eric loosen up from then. After Midnight and Tell The Truth were both as tight but as laid back as they were meant to be. A relief that it worked and everyone on stage clearly got into it. I was lucky to be there and I had this odd feeling that it was just for me. Every note, every word just for me.”

Key To The Highway is a new addition for the second show and certainly one of the stand out performances from the whole night. Originally recorded by Derek and the Dominos on the Layla album, it was one of the most electric performances on the whole album. The track was recorded in one take as a jam and it was so good that it ended up on the album. The reason why it fades in is because Tom Dowd rushed back from the bathroom and found out the engineers weren’t recording it, so the start is missing. But this performance at the Rainbow Theatre really is fantastic. The version found on the Rainbow Concert live LP has been cut and edited to “sound better” but the full original version is available to listen to. The start is a little shaky which is probably why it was edited but listening to it in all it’s glory is exciting, especially the guitar solos which are shared between Clapton and Wood. In fact I’d go as far as saying this is Clapton’s finest guitar performance of the entire night, especially when Wood steps things up with his slide solo which you can sense spurs Clapton on even more. Let It Rain comes next and at nearly 13 minutes is nearly double the length of the version played at the early show. It also include a 5 minute drum/percussion solo which didn’t feature earlier in the night and the audience explodes when the song comes to an end. The second from last song is Crossroads which sounds fantastic but the band end the night the way they started by playing Layla. Having Layla to start and end the show is fitting because a year earlier in 1972 Layla finally made waves on the radio, a full two years after it was recorded. It’s inclusion on the LP The History Of Eric Clapton helped to keep Clapton’s name relevant after years of seclusion and lack of activity. The whole band sound excellent during this final performance of a song that at the time was finally starting to get noticed, finally starting to gain the legendary status that it holds today.

The two shows played at the Rainbow Theatre on the 13th January 1973 would certainly provide the jumpstart that Clapton needed at the time, although it would be another year before his comeback was properly underway. The band behind him were just what he needed, a bunch of close friends and respected musicians who he had either worked with before or had been friends with since the 1960’s. There are differences between the two shows and not just the guitar he was playing. During the first show you get the impression the band were propping him up and supporting him through what seemed like a monumental task at the time. He hadn’t played live in so long that his confidence was non-existent and no-one knew how the night would go down. But then during the second show it’s like a different Clapton took to the stage and his playing and singing were much stronger. His abilities were definitely a long way off from his Dominos period but it was a start. Even though Clapton would hide away again after these two shows there’s no doubt that they needed to happen as he moved closer to a permanent comeback. But overall, the fact that he played so well after two and a bit years of a drug induced seclusion is remarkable considering these two shows were the most he’d sung and played live in front of people since that final Derek and the Dominos show on the 6th December 1970.

Clapton's SoloClapton's Rainbow Concert118.Pete_Townshend_&_Eric_Clapton_1973

Acknowledgements: Dave Kitteridge, Les Mitchell, Mark Pettigrew.
Photo Credits: Featured Image: Photo by Express/Getty Images. Page 1: Photo of ticket stub by Dave Kitteridge. Page 3: First photo by Express/Getty Images. Second photo by P.Floyd/Express/Getty Images. Third photo by Barry Wentzell.

2 thoughts on “The Return Of Slowhand: Eric Clapton’s Rainbow Concerts

  1. Paul Bishop says:

    I was at the later show with my older brother. Funnily enough I remember there was a tasty support band that night – The Average White Band! This was to be as important a gig for them as for EC, as it was their first major gig. Superb drumming from Robbie MacIntosh as I recall.


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