I went to this last night
Just when I thought I'd never get to see Eric Johnson without having to make a trip to the States (not that it wouldn't have been cool doing it that way but more local is always good!)
First and foremost, was anyone else there?
SET LIST (if anyone was there or knows where to find the same list, do help me fill in the two I don't know):
A Song for Life
Last House on the Block
April Come She Will (Simon & Garfunkle)
Unknown – Acoustic
Mr P.C (Coltrane)
Unknown – Electric
Nothing can keep me from You
When the Sun meets the Sky
Cliffs of Dover (with extended intro)
Power to Love (Hendrix)
The Wind Cries Mary (Hendrix)
I took 30 odd pictures with my iPhone camera (surprise, they weren't taking them off people on the doors, I didn't get searched), I only got ONE I consider vaguely good but here it is, taken during the Cliffs of Dover Intro:
Rather than post a review I thought I'd put some general observations that might interest those here from a guitar-playing point of view.
Eric Johnson is a very skilled improviser, what he does on the famous Austin City Limits DVD is impressive from a technical point of view but his style of improvising musically has improved over the last 25 years - on the City Limits recording you'd see more of him playing in tighter, more recognised shapes whereas last night it felt like he knew what he wanted melody-wise BEFORE he went for it (I say this because there were moments where he missed notes and they didn't quite sound, mostly bends and notes up in the fret 20/21/22 range, so he obviously didn't quite get what he tried for but what he had in mind was obvious)
When the Sun meets the Sky was the most telling improvised solo, considering he spent years perfecting the Venus Isle album and yet that's one track that when he plays it live he never does the same thing twice. I've had this long held idea that the reason studio perfectionists are often better live even though they're less polished is that they have less time to worry about perfect and are more themselves than their inner-composer.
Where EJ really shows why he's regarded as a great guitarist is how he can improvise for lengthy songs and still find new ideas, all variations on a theme but with very little repeating. Try Last House on the Block - 11 minutes on Alien Love Child album, last night he made it last just under 16 and I felt excited during the whole thing. The Cliffs of Dover intro, a big improvement on the City Limits version - longer, slower, more chord-based improv, could seem rehearsed to many people because of the glossy tones he picked and how crisp it all sounded but I'm not convinced he wasn't making some of it up as he went through, if only because that was the one song where I wished he'd get to the point when he seemed to be showing off how many effects were in his box!
I've read some interviews with EJ where he talks about how his picking style has changed in the last ten or so years and many have made this observation. On the new Up Close album you'll certainly find minimal shred compared with Venus Isle and less sweeping and big string skips, and in recent videos you won't see a lot of this either, there's more legato there and generally slower, less frenetic solos. I even heard one person in the queue commenting that they thought it was because he simply couldn't do that anyone, but after the concert I thought that Idea was proven wrong. There was certainly less alternative picking but the sweeping was still there, as were the runs from high E to low E and vica-versa certainly at the fret-12 onwards. Where I wondered if perhaps he'd lost the technique or just didn't have it last night were some of the harmonics - some hit perfectly but some not ringing.
In the Power to Love cover in the encore, EJ's playing reminded me of a trick I was taught about 6 months after I first started playing but don't often think of: putting one riff/chord progression under the singer's melody during a song's chorus and then towards the end, change that progression but keep the melody the same - amazing when done with the right song. What EJ did with Power to Love is hard to say but I'll approximate it. Lets say we're in a minor. The line 'With the power of soul, anything is possible' had a blues style pentatonic riff over it for the main and then in the last chorus it became chords a minor, C5, F5, G5 and back to a minor, in that order. It was probably the best moment of the night.
Oh yeah, and EJ still has one of the sweetest strat-tones in the business. After I spent two hours adjusting the truss rod and saddles on my own strat to make it playable again I'm thinking it's about time I finally invested in some pickups to replace the stock ones which buzz like a hive and sound horrid with distortion.