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O2 Arena, London, 14 February 2010

A few years ago, I set myself the target of broadening my horizons, hanging the expense and seeing some of the seminal figures in rock music history before they died or I did, which ever came soonest.

As a result, I have recently been privileged to finally see the likes of Bruce Springsteen, The Who, Fleetwood Mac, the Eagles, Neil Young, and, in 2009 Roger McGuinn and Ray Davies, all of whom were consummate performers.

I'd always been put off doing likewise with Eric Clapton, never having owned a filofax, driven a Golf GTi or done business with anyone who owned a box at the Royal Albert Hall.

However, having recently been playing a lot of Cream and his Rainbow Concert CD, and been impressed by his televised concert with Steve Winwood, it was time to break my duck and a pairing with equally pioneering guitarist and ex-Yardbird Jeff Beck gave me the opportunity to kill two birds with one (expensive) stone.

Jeff Beck - seemingly frozen in time with his black feather cut and sleeveless T-shirt - came on first to do a 50 minute, mainly instrumental set, with a three piece band including some noted players such as Narada Michael Walden on drums and Prince bassist Rhonda Smith, backed at times by an orchestra.

The set was a mixture of his jazzy rock workouts, and guitar and orchestra interpretations of classic songs, including People Get Ready (though it missed Rod Stewart's singing) and A Day In the Life. There were also guest appearances from the violinist from The Corrs (remember how they were big in the nineties only to sink without trace?) and jazz singer Imelda May.

Not my musical style of choice, but his guitar playing was skilful and dextrous and was a reminder how he has influenced countless others. I didn't expect to be saying this, but to hear him close the set with Nessun Dorma on guitar backed by an orchestra was a spine tingling moment.

After a lengthy interval, Eric Clapton came on stage, with his hair grown out and swept back and a thick pair of glasses, and I couldn't watch him without thinking Ricky Tomlinson had been wheeled out to reprise his Jim Royle character.

He opened, perched on a stool with a very un rock 'n' roll carpet underneath, with a short set of acoustic blues, but I was relieved when he strapped on his Fender Stratocaster for an enjoyable run through of some of his standards including Tell the Truth with a slight Stones-y vibe, a jam version of I Shot the Sheriff with perhaps his best solo of the night, Key to the Highway and Cocaine.

Although there was rather too much emphasis on lengthy solos from either keyboard player, we were still witnessing a master at work with his effortless but melodic bluesy licks.

Then, unannounced, Jeff Beck joined him for the second half of the set, enlivening a cover of Shake Your Moneymaker with some vintage bottleneck slide playing. The occasion called for some Yardbirds, Cream or anything that reminded us of the debt classic and hard rock owes to these two pioneers. However instead we got a cover of Moon River, admittedly with some tasteful guitar from Jeff, followed by a series of plodding, perfunctory12-bar blues covers such as Wee Wee Baby.

Jeff tended to take the majority of the leads, at least initially, with Eric concentrating on singing. There was barely any guitar interplay between the two and indeed they scarcely acknowledged each others' presence. After meandering along, the joint set at least closed in style with a surprise cover of Sly Stone's I Wanna Take You Higher, showing off the girl backing singers rather than the guitarists.

It was ironic that, after refusing to give the crowd what they wanted, they encored with the song Hi Ho Silver Lining, whose shadow Beck has spent his career trying to escape. They shared the singing, and as it finally got the crowd to their feet it served its purpose. However, they then shuffled off stage never to return, with barely even a thank you.

As I made my way into the long queues for the tube, I was thinking to myself, no Cream? (though I later discovered Crossroads had been played the previous night), no Yardbirds? No Jeff Beck Group? Not even Layla….

I can tick two of the legends off my list, but this was in all honesty a disappointing evening. Mr Beck has plenty of life left in him, but I'm afraid Mr Clapton is in pipe and slippers territory. EC is God? On this evidence, Jim Royle would have a two word catchphrase in reply.

Review by Andy Nathan

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