JGT contributor Brad Jeter reviews the recent Eric Johnson concert – March 26, 2023 at Atlanta’s Variety Playhouse.
It is always a treat to see Eric Johnson live. This latest outing at the Variety Playhouse in Atlanta on March 26, 2023, witnessed a more relaxed and comfortable performer. Eric never had to strive for clearing the bar because he created and set the bar. In a way, his only competition was himself and he relentlessly strove for perfection both in the studio and live. I think Eric is now enjoying the sheer joy of playing without pushing the very boundaries he created.
The evening started with an extended acoustic set that saw Eric joined by Roscoe Beck on standup bass. The mood was relaxed and slowly built with the remainder of the band coming out to subtly add texture to the presentation. This segment came to a conclusion with Song For George off of Ah Via Musicom which the audience was very appreciative of.
Following this was a relaxed interlude which found Eric at the piano. Probably more than a few first-time EJ attendees were chuffed by how accomplished Eric is on the ivories; after all, it was his first instrument.
He moved back to the acoustic guitar to finish off the first portion of the concert with a rousing rendition of Led Zeppelin’s Black Mountain Side, which Eric referred to as Black Water Side, explaining that the latter was the original traditional Irish folk song it was inspired by. It left the audience in an elevated spirit and wound up for the electric second half.
Let’s be honest, this is what most fans want and Eric didn’t disappoint. He started the electric festivities with Righteous and the crowd loved it. The third song in was his Hendrix tune (he almost always plays one) and he had chosen Drifting from Axis Bold As Love. Eric treats Hendrix songs with reverence and it was obvious.
There was an extended–I’ll use the term jam–of the Coltrane number, Impressions where each member stretched out. Some got it when you go outside and some don’t. Again, the new more relaxed, and comfortable Eric was doing what made him happy and it was quite a display of musicianship.
There was a moving and heartfelt tribute to Jeff Beck in the form of Freeway Jam. Again, performed with respect and reverence, the audience was very appreciative of Eric expressing how influential Jeff Beck had been, not just on him but the world.
The set ended with the classic EJ rave-up, Cliffs of Dover. A slow simmer intro evolving into the guitar anthem it truly is.
For the encore, the blistering Zap from the Tones album left everyone satisfied and I am sure there were many guitar and tone discussions in the cars driving home in a spring rain in Atlanta.
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