As it turns out, there was motivation aplenty in the Saturday edition of the San Francisco Chronicle, in which pop critic Joel Selvin, reviewing the Thursday-night show, praised Jeff Beck ("sensational"), faint-praised Clapton ("agreeable") and deep-sixed Page as possibly "one of the most overrated guitarists in rock."
At least partly in response to this cavalier slagging, one suspects, the show that final night in San Francisco was the best of the three-night stand. Clapton sweat through his set, and it was about as good as straight white blues gets. Beck, playing without a pick, was once again brilliant — the most aggressive and incisively lyrical guitarist on the big-time circuit. (Singer Maria Muldaur sat in the audience shouting, "Eat your heart out, Jerry Garcia!")
But the real killer, charismawise, was Jimmy Page. When he wove out onto the stage wearing a pair of Lennonesque wire-rim shades and the kind of screaming, spangled-lapel jacket that nobody's had the courage to manufacture since 1968, and leaned into the microphone with a pointed "Good evenin' — it's nice to see some friendly faces out there," well, one couldn't help but suspect he'd spent the entire day in his room reading Selvin's review.
"I think I should make one announcement," he said silkily. "Now is the time for the people in the press boxes to go out and get a drink." And without further ado, he peeled off that wacky jacket, strapped on his guitar and — grasping the neck as if it were Joel Selvin's — pumped out a set's worth of bold and often beautifully textured guitar. "Boogie Woman" came across with real crunch, and even the "work in progress" sounded a little more together. "Stairway to Heaven," after all these years, is probably a matter of individual taste.
The concert concluded splendidly: although Page was noticeably out of tune by the time "Layla" came around, Clapton and Beck locked into the riffs and didn't let go. "With a Little Help from My Friends," with all four drummers slamming down on those famous prechorus fills and Cocker turning in one of his strongest vocals, was every bit the equal of the famous Woodstock performance fourteen years ago. By the time Ronnie Lane was guided out for "Goodnight Irene," it was clear that these creaky old geezers still have a lot of wallop — and heart and soul — left in them.
They also seem very clearly defined in light of this emotional event: Clapton, the dignified, in-the-tradition bluesman, limited only by his material, not his talent; Beck, the erratically recorded but undeniable inheritor of the great screamer-guitar tradition of the Sixties; and Page, the sensitive space case. What did they get out of all this? The pleasure of one another's company, says Beck.
"We've never been rivals — it was only the press that ever made it seem so. This has been a ball. I realize that you've got to go out and play and tour, and not just purely rely on video to reach the masses. Because video's not happening, really, to me. A live concert is still magic and always will be. I mean, there's no substitute for the real thing."
"When I saw Ronnie," Clapton says, "I knew that there was a way that I could help him, that it was possible to do this. It doesn't take much. It just takes a little bit of time and a little bit of sincere work. And the rewards are boundless, you know?"
Would it be trite to attribute the Ronnie Lane benefit tour to that much vaunted "spirit of the Sixties"?
"Yeah, that could be true," Clapton says. "There was a great deal of camaraderie in the Sixties that doesn't seem to exist now — a lot of cross-referencing going on, which I don't see much of now. But then, I don't hang out with the young generation. I stay with my own kind. Maybe it does go on, who knows?"
Well, Bill Graham knows. After the final Cow Palace concert, Graham lets slip a little story. "I shouldn't tell you this," he says, correctly, "but Neal Schon was here last night, and he said, 'Bill — we should do this. The young musicians! We could get Carlos Santana and Eddie Van Halen and myself together . . .'
"And I said, 'Come onnnnn, are you kidding?' " Graham chuckles at the absurdity of the idea. "I said, 'Which part would you play?'"
This is a story from the January 19, 1984 issue of Rolling Stone.
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