DVD Review: Eric Clapton – Planes, Trains and Eric

DVD Review: Eric Clapton – Planes, Trains and Eric
Eagle Rock Entertainment
All Access Rating: B+

Eric Clapton - Planes, Trains and Eric 2014
Japan won't be seeing much of Eric Clapton anymore, that is if the blues-rock guitar legend sticks to his plan to retire from touring when he hits 70 years of age next spring.

Worn out from the rigors of traveling across the globe and performing in far-flung locales for years, Clapton has earned some much-needed rest, and if that means the end of playing in perhaps his favorite place on earth, so be it. Clapton will miss the Land of the Rising Sun, though.

That much is apparent from "Planes, Trains and Eric," an intimate and revealing new documentary film from Eagle Rock Entertainment that follows ol' "Slowhand" on the Far and Middle Eastern leg of his 2014 World Tour, a bittersweet sense of finality hanging over the proceedings.

During an incandescent acoustic reading of "Layla," one of 13 live full live performances of Clapton favorites included here, Clapton expresses his fondness for Japan, adding, "I've been coming here since before some of you were born." His deep respect for the kindness and integrity of its people shining through in reflective and unguarded interviews with Clapton, with much attention paid to his enduring friendship with his concert promoter in Japan, Mister Udo, who Clapton says helped him through "the dark days."

These are happier times for Clapton, who leads his band here through a vigorous, stirring rendition of "Pretending" that simmers and smolders, while "I Shot the Sheriff" protests peacefully and quietly, "Wonderful Tonight" glows and sparkles, and rollicking versions of "Tell The Truth," "Crossroads" and "Key to the Highway" swing and roll with bluesy abandon – all of it played with both a freewheeling, if also somewhat restrained, spirit, an undeniably strong group chemistry and sunny warmth. At times, Clapton seems to turn the stage into a homey back porch, just strumming and picking away at his guitar in front of a circle of friends, but there are other moments where he is still electrifying, displaying that deft, lightning-quick touch and preternatural feel that still leave worshippers slack-jawed.

The rest of "Planes, Trains and Eric" is as much an artfully pieced together tour diary as anything else. There are brief snippets of rehearsal and sound-check footage, meaningful behind-the-scenes interaction, informal presentations related to Clapton's 200th show in Japan – as well as a mention of his 86th performance at Budokan, the most ever by a foreign artist – and scenes from cars, airports and train stations that help the narrative flow. Candid interviews with drummer Steve Gadd, Hammond organ player Paul Carrack, bassist Nathan East, keyboardist Chris Stainton and backing vocalists Michelle John and Shar White reveal much about the inner workings of Clapton and those musicians in his employ, adding rather wistful commentary on the possibility that this just might be it for him.

Blind Faith, Cream, The Yardbirds, Derek and the Dominos, John Mayall's Bluesbreakers, not to mention his own multi-platinum solo work ... that's an impressive musical history to say the least. "Planes, Trains and Eric" doesn't get into all that, nor does it delve into those scandalous "dark days" Clapton spoke of to provide some sense of context for those words, choosing instead to stay in the moment and give a sense of what it's like for an aging superstar to let go gracefully, with dignity and good humor.
– Peter Lindblad

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