By Carla Meyer
Eric Clapton's blazing rendition of "Cocaine" inspired yearning Thursday night, and not in a Charlie Sheen way.
The song returned you to the 1970s, before Clapton favored middle-of-the-road arrangements and all that sitting down and unplugging.
Clapton's concert at Power Balance Pavilion (formerly Arco Arena) started with the wonder of witnessing an amazing talent in person. Slowhand inspired awe at how quickly his hands actually traverse the neck of his Stratocaster and at his ability to make it sound so crisp, then so earthy.
It didn't matter during the show's first section that the songs weren't his most recognizable. The crescendo blues of the Muddy Waters cover "Hoochie Coochie Man" held the mostly baby-boomer crowd of more than 12,000 transfixed.
Clapton wasn't chatty with the audience, but gracious in his thanks after shows of applause. When he finally played a hit - his cover of Bob Marley 's "I Shot the Sheriff" - the crowd erupted, buoyed by the song's familiarity and by how tremendous Clapton and his elegantly swampy band had sounded up to that point.
Then Clapton sat down for an acoustic/electric segment, with mixed results. His picking on the acoustic "Driftin' " brought thoughts of his boyhood in England, and how many hours it has taken since then to assume such thorough command of the guitar.
But the ragtime-light "When Somebody Thinks You're Wonderful" sounded like a Randy Newman song that did not make the "Toy Story" cut.
Still sitting, Clapton performed "Layla" - but the sing-song "MTV Unplugged" version, not the searing rock standard. Fans were left wanting, waiting for the piano coda that never arrived. Since it was one of only a handful of big hits Clapton played all night, the arrangement doubly disappointed.
Clapton stood up and ripped into Cream's "Badge," a forceful rock 'n' roll antidote to the sit-down segment. When he slowed things down again for "Wonderful Tonight," the show officially become terrific again - because the song is timeless, Clapton sounds so loving when he sings it, and because it was performed in its original version.
Opener Los Lobos delivered its own memorable guitar solos (by guitarist/singers David Hidalgo and Cesar Rojas). The veteran band's repertoire encompasses indie rock, blues, folk and rockabilly, and on Thursday performed its big hit "La Bamba," along with more traditionally arranged Spanish songs. When Rojas urged, "Everybody cumbia!", nobody did, but everybody wanted to.
Call The Bee's Carla Meyer, (916) 321-1118.