photo: Fran Ruchalski

MUSIC REVIEW: After Midnight…we’re gonna let it all hang out

After Midnight (A Clapton Experience) offers fans of Eric Clapton’s music an opportunity that is not to be missed. Featuring a set list of classic Clapton hits that span his entire 52-year career, After Midnight skillfully delivers a variety of indelible blues, psychedelic and hard rock tempered with stirring acoustic ballads, sure to please lifelong fans and the uninitiated alike. The latest incarnation of brothers Keith and Michael Beckham, After Midnight seeks to provide concert-goers with the thrill of a live Clapton show, minus the impersonal arena crowds and high costs of attendance, and their aim is true.

Earlier this month I had the pleasure of catching their show at Mojo’s BBQ off of Beach Blvd and was simply blown away by the technical mastery displayed by Keith Beckham, the man with the huge task of filling Clapton’s shoes. Keith has been perfecting his skills on electric and acoustic guitar throughout a career that spans 37 years. He has played in many successful groups around the First Coast, and you may have seen him shredding licks in bands such as Albatross and Glass Onion. Take just one look at him onstage now, his shoulder-length hair parted down the middle, with a touch of grey and bifocals, wearing a vest over a buttoned down shirt, and you’ll see he’s got the modern Clapton appearance down pat. And once his electric guitar begins to wail, it’s evident he’s got Clapton’s transcendent playing style mastered as well.

After Midnight is, however, much more than Keith and his blazing six-string; his brother Michael, an accomplished rock drummer in his own right, provides the backbeat that allows the band to soar. Every bit the seasoned rocker, Michael looks at home behind his kit, and the ease with which he maneuvers behind it makes the complicated look elementary. It comes as no surprise the brothers have been jamming in various rock ‘n’ roll outfits since adolescence. When they decided to join up for After Midnight, they found themselves in the enviable position of having their choice of fellow bandmates. The handpicked line-up includes Bobby Britt on keys, Rick Doeschler on lead & rhythm guitar, Dean Harris on bass, and Belinda Spradlin on percussion. Each provides experience and savvy, having deep roots in rock music and several decades of experience. Of particular note, each member of After Midnight, except for Spradlin, pulls double duty as members of The Wildflowers, who most recently opened for Tim McGraw here in Jacksonville.

Highlights from the After Midnight performance were numerous; an inspired and improvisational version of ‘Crossroads,’ originally written and performed by Robert Johnson, and made famous by Clapton, really shines. The full talent of the band is on display through the extended jam in which each member solos. George Carlin once said about the blues, “it’s not enough to know which notes to play, you have to know why they need to be played.” The mastery with which Beckham and co. hit each note makes this understanding unmistakable. Yet, it’s not just the blues tracks on which they shine, especially Keith, as he can make his acoustic guitar laugh or cry with the same skill he uses to make his electric scream and kick. On both ‘Tears in Heaven’ and ‘Layla,’ Beckham and After Midnight slow the music and the dancing crowd with heartfelt renditions of two of Clapton’s most endearing and personal songs.

The deep connection between the band and the music is evident from the look, skill and tenderness put into each song. The result was a thoroughly satisfied crowd ready to return and bring along friends who enjoy an eclectic mix of timeless guitar-driven rock and blues. After Midnight provides just that.


About Woody Powell