On February 3, 2001, Eric Clapton kicked off his most ambitious World Tour to date at London's Royal Albert Hall in support of his new album, Reptile. EC's tour would visit a number of places he never played previously; most notably three shows in Russia. They happened on April 8, 2001 at the Ice Palace in St. Petersburg and April 10 and 11 at the Kremlin Convention Center (formerly the Palace of Congresses) to wrap up the European Leg of the tour. They were the final shows with percussionist Paulinho DaCosta. Also on the stage with Eric were Andy Fairweather-Low, David Sancious, Nathan East and Steve Gadd, who celebrated his April 10 birthday in the Russian capital.
Three friends (and WE! Team Members) flew in to take in the concerts. On the Twentieth Anniversary of these historic gigs, the original Where's Eric! Magazine review is republished below along with complete set lists from all three nights. Where's Eric! is a fan-run group since 1992 and the opinions expressed in its reviews are solely those of it's volunteer staff.
A REPTILE IN RUSSIAOriginally published in Where's Eric! Magazine Issue 30 / Summer 2001
FLASHBACK: SOVIET UNION / JANUARY 1986
"Excuse me, do you have any cassettes of rock music?” More than blue jeans and cigarettes, this is what twenty-somethings wanted from visiting college students on a cultural exchange trip. We wanted to speak with them to find out about life in the Soviet Union. But, our lntourist Guides struggled to keep us apart. "Nyet! Do not speak to those people!" “Nyet! Do not give Soviet Citizens things. ls against rules!" “Nyet! You cannot leave hotel on your own!" After a week of being watched 24/7 and hearing “approved" but exceedingly bad Soviet pop on state-controlled radio, we willingly gave away our tapes. We could buy new ones. For them, being able to buy any recording they wanted was a dream from over the rainbow.
ST PETERSBURG, RUSSIA / APRIL 5 – 8, 2001
Enormous change occurred when this country was wrenched from Soviet control in 1991. Overnight, the country was declared a Republic. For a nation whose people have never been truly free, the growing pains have been tough. The Russian Mafia, to a large extent, replaced the Communists. Leningrad became St. Petersburg once again.
Today, gypsy women, the elderly and the homeless beg in the streets of St. Petersburg. Apartment blocks built in the 1970s look ready to collapse. There are abandoned public works projects in the middle of the city. Unemployment and drug use are widespread. Tourists no longer have minders from lntourist.
Music is everywhere. Dixieland jazz on Nevsky Prospekt. Kids busking in the subways playing songs by The Beatles, the Stones and Jimi Hendrix. Music blares from bars and restaurants. Kiosks dot the streets selling CDs and tapes imported from Europe and America. On Russian radio, Clapton’s "Ain’t Gonna Stand For It” and Bon Jovi’s "lt’s My Life" are in regular rotation. The city is dotted with posters advertising upcoming concerts. And EC himself is in town to perform a sold-out show.
In a country where the average monthly salary is between $72 and $100, concert tickets are not a luxury. They are an extravagance. Yet, the Russian promoter kept the ticket prices on par with the West. And like the West, touts sold the best seats for $500. Even buying a ticket at face value will cause many Russian Clapton fans to do without. For the rest of the year, they won’t take a bus to work, have lunch at university, nor spend evenings at the cinema. All given up in exchange for one night of music.
Shortly after 8PM on April 8, Clapton walked onstage and greeted the crowd with a cheerful "Prevyet! Dobriy Vechor!" (hello and good evening) before opening with "Key To The Highway.” The rest of the band was greeted warmly as they took their places for "Reptile.” "Tears ln Heaven" and “Change The World" received a huge response with hundreds of lighters held aloft. A mobile phone rang during "Bell Bottom Blues” and the owner started chatting. A young girl held up her mobile so someone could hear "My Father’s Eyes.” Things didn’t seem to be that different from a concert in the United States, after all.
Even after several weeks on the road, "Going Down Slow" still hadn’t come together but "River Of Tears" ended with a passionate solo. The material from Reptile was a bit lost on the audience due to its unfamiliarity. But the audience listened respectfully, greeted each guitar solo with loud cheers and applauded warmly at the end of each number. The music’s momentum kept growing.
The first big surprise of the evening came from the audience. The crowd roared with recognition with the opening notes of “Hoochie Coochie Man” and started singing along. It segued into “Have You Ever Loved A Woman” which packed an emotional wallop that’s been missing for a long time. By the time the band got around to what was possibly one of the best live versions of “Layla” ever played, the entire floor was a sea of dancing, happy fans. A good number of people in the seats were up and dancing despite security’s efforts to keep them seated. The audience joined in enthusiastically on the call and response of “Cocaine” and swayed slowly to “Wonderful Tonight.” With the first encore, Nathan East had the audience on his side bouncing up and down in time to the beat of “Sunshine Of Your Love.” The audience listened intently to “Somewhere Over The Rainbow” then broke into lasting applause.
Clapton and Company had conquered St. Petersburg. Now, it was on to Moscow.
MOSCOW, RUSSIA / APRIL 9 - 12, 2001
Even though Moscow is older by several hundred years, it is more modern than St. Petersburg. Very few traces of the ancient city remain. The Russian Mafia is omnipresent. Corruption and bribery are the rules of the game. Unlike St. Petersburg, there is no music in the streets.
Having grown up with "duck and cover” drills in school (how hiding under a desk would save one from nuclear annihilation was never made clear), it was almost incomprehensible that we could cross a Moskva River bridge, stroll past St. Basil’s Cathedral and shop for designer clothes in GUM. It was while crossing Red Square to visit Lenin’s Tomb, the significance of Eric Clapton’s next concert became clear. It would be in the former Palace of Congresses, inside the Kremlin. Inside what was once the center of enemy territory.
As we strolled toward the Trinity Tower to enter the Kremlin for the first Moscow concert, we were confronted with a line several city blocks long. Six thousand people, three metal detectors. Six soldies. When we finally made it to the metal detectors, we were asked to put our bags on a table and walk through. We then picked up our bags without having them examined. This “security check” delayed the start of the concert by over an hour.
Once inside, the Palace of Congresses looked much like it did in pictures when it was the site of Communist Party meetings. Only the rostrum where the party leaders sat had been removed. A black Strat was on a stand near the spot where Khrushchev, Brezhnev, and Gorbachev once presided. There were many visual reminders of the building’s history: a wall of two-way glass in the downstairs lounge, each seat had a small speaker installed in its back and several cameras pointed down on the audience from the ceiling. Lots of security increased the feeling that Big Brother was still watching.
The first impression during the opening notes of “Key To The Highway” was the sound. It was crystal clear with no echo. A richly expressive “Bell Bottom Blues” allowed voices and instruments to come through in all their subtlety. Who knew Khrushchev could construct a building with near perfect acoustics for a rock concert?
ln front of the stage, there was a dance floor area. A few hundred people could have stood comfortably. Instead, there was less than one hundred spread thinly across its width. These tickets were less expensive than regular seating and the area was populated with young fans. There was a twenty-foot gap between them and the first-row seats. As the music continued, no one moved other than the people on the dance floor. Not a head nodded to the beat. It was as if cardboard cutouts of people had been propped up in the seats.
The band rocked the intro to “Change The World.” The kids in the row in front of us swayed a bit. Then, one of them tentatively held up her lighter. The guards pounced but didn’t throw her out. We patted her on the back and said, “You go, girl!” to let her know it was appropriate to react to what she was feeling. It took courage. This young woman was trying to change her world and break free of the constraints imposed by society. Unfortunately, society would defeat her (and the other music fans present) in the end.
The closing solo of “River of Tears” was structurally simple, yet deeply moving. A blistering “She’s Gone” was followed by a strong set of new material. The stand out was “Don’t Let Me Be Lonely Tonight” with EC’s voice conveying more emotion than his six-string. “Hoochie Coochie Man” segued into a jaw dropping, spine-tingling “Stormy Monday” with a great assist from David Sancious on keyboards. Yet the crowd remained seated and unaffected by the music. Song after song received polite applause. It must have been tough on the entire band to gauge audience reaction, as it was practically non-existent. Even electric “Layla” failed to rouse them. Only during “Sunshine Of Your Love” did a handful of people stand up and dance. Even though the band had given their all and performed a monster show, it ended without the loud cheering and stomping that occurs in the rest of the world.
Leaving the venue, we struck up a conversation with some Russian fans. They assured us that everyone had enjoyed the music immensely. ln fact, it was one of the greatest concerts ever to take place in Moscow. We had to ask, “How could you not respond to the music?” as the crowd’s reaction seemed lukewarm, at best, to us. We received a typical Russian reply, “Oh, you just couldn’t see it. We were all smiling, cheering and dancing on the inside!”
Having played “match the Cyrillic letters” with our tickets and the seating chart, we realized we had purchased dance floor tickets for April 11. Once inside, we found hundreds of seats set up on it. The hip, young Clapton fans that had dance floor tickets were being forced to stand along the sidewall and in the back. A few lucky ones were given seats off to the side. The change was accepted willingly. ln any other country, things would have been tense, if not downright ugly. Pretending not to understand, we managed to get some seats in the center.
Russian Mafia-types in expensive suits with relatives and friends in tow were shown to the seats around us. The rest quickly filled with OAPs who looked as if they had sat there for meetings. All had handwritten tickets and not the full color tickets that were still available from the box office. It was obvious these people were there for the prestige of attending a Clapton concert. Their presence quickly put a damper on what little enthusiasm existed in the building.
By the time the band got to “River Of Tears,” it was apparent they were playing the gig for their own enjoyment. The audience no longer mattered. They were feeding off their own musical energy. Only a handful of people realized how good the show was. Clapton soloed his fingers off as he worked through the material. His playing seemed to say, “I’ll show you!” Hoochie Coochie Man into a terrific version of “Five Long Years” with Clapton singing an angry “she’s got the goddamned nerve” on the final refrain. A rocking “Cocaine.” Even “Wonderful Tonight” didn’t seem as worn out as usual. A feedback-fueled “Sunshine Of Your Love” got a few people got up to dance. Two guys tried to rush the stage but were quickly put back in their seats by security. A bittersweet “Rainbow”. As the final chords faded into nothingness, a few scattered cheers were heard.
Leaving the Kremlin, we bid goodnight to the soldiers on guard duty. Walking back to the hotel, we took a final stroll through a darkened Red Square singing at the top of our lungs. “New York, New York” because we were looking forward to getting home. “Imagine” because THAT Lennon had the right idea.
ERIC CLAPTON & HIS BAND: EUROPE 2001 LINEUPEric Clapton – guitar / vocalsAndy Fairweather Low – guitar / vocalsDavid Sancious – keyboards / guitar / vocalsNathan East – bass / vocalsSteve Gadd – drumsPaulinho Da Costa – percussion
ICE PALACE, ST. PETERSBURG - APRIL 8, 2001 SET LIST01. Key To The Highway02. Reptile03. Tears In Heaven04. Bell Bottom Blues05. Change The World06. My Father's Eyes07. River Of Tears08. Going Down Slow09. She's Gone10. Got You On My Mind11. Don’t Let Me Be Lonely Tonight12. Travelin’ Light13. Hoochie Coochie Man14. Have You Ever Loved A Woman15. White Room16. Wonderful Tonight17. Layla18. Sunshine Of Your Love (encore)19. Somewhere Over The Rainbow (encore)
KREMLIN CONVENTON CENTER, MOSCOW - APRIL 10, 2001 SET LIST01. Key To The Highway02. Reptile03. Tears In Heaven04. Bell Bottom Blues05. Change The World06. My Father's Eyes07. River Of Tears08. Going Down Slow09. She's Gone10. Got You On My Mind11. Don’t Let Me Be Lonely Tonight12. Travelin’ Light13. Hoochie Coochie Man14. Stormy Monday15. Cocaine16. Wonderful Tonight17. Layla18. Sunshine Of Your Love (encore)19. Somewhere Over The Rainbow (encore)
KREMLIN CONVENTION CENTER, MOSCOW - APRIL 11, 2001 SET LIST01. Key To The Highway02. Reptile03. Tears In Heaven04. Bell Bottom Blues05. Change The World06. My Father's Eyes07. River Of Tears08. Going Down Slow09. She's Gone10. Got You On My Mind11. Don’t Let Me Be Lonely Tonight12. Travelin’ Light13. Hoochie Coochie Man14. Five Long Years15. Cocaine16. Wonderful Tonight17. Layla18. Sunshine Of Your Love (encore)19. Somewhere Over The Rainbow (encore)