It was Eric Clapton's birthday celebration, but it was the sold-out crowd at New York's Madison Square Garden that got a gift as the guitar god enthralled during a two-hour concert that included some of his biggest hits.
Clapton started Friday's concert with a rollicking version of "Somebody's Knocking" from J.J. Cale. It was the first in Clapton's two-night stand to mark his 70th (his birthday is actually March 30). Clapton and his legendary guitar play scorched through songs such as "Hoochie Coochie" and "Queen of Spades." He was measured but stirring during his acoustic "Tears in Heaven."
A special moment came when Clapton's keyboardist Paul Carrack performed "You Are So Beautiful," popularized by Joe Cocker, a longtime Clapton friend who died in December. Clapton also dedicated a song to beloved mentor B.B. King, who earlier Friday announced that he is in hospice care in Las Vegas.
Clapton brought out a few of his guitar-playing friends: John Mayer traded frenetic guitar licks with his idol on "Pretending," while he and Jimmy Vaughan were masterful together on the electric "Before You Accuse Me." Clapton also performed "I Shot the Sheriff," "Crossroads," "Layla" and "Cocaine." He said little, but toward the end he let on that the night was magical to him, too. "I want to thank you for helping me celebrate," he said. "This is the best birthday I ever had."