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Clapton slow to warm up to crowd

Eric Clapton has always seemed a bit reluctant to assume his role as a rock icon. Perhaps it's why his stage performances in recent years have tended to portray him as a performer a little bit bored with the business of pleasing the multitudes.

Fans will recall that his last bay area visit two years ago at St. Peterburg's Thunderdome found Clapton immersed exclusively in the blues covers of his "From The Cradle" album.

While musically enthralling much of the time, he had to contend with the shouts from fans who wanted to hear some of his well-known pop hits.

This time around, Clapton seems willing to be a little more accommodating to fans who have stuck with him for more than the past two or three records. However, his Sunday night show at a nearly full Ice Palace hung perilously close to convention much of the time.

In fact, fans graciously waded through a generally lackluster 30 minutes of material from Pilgrim before Clapton began tossing out some bones.

Unveiling new material from the stage is tough, but Clapton made his cause suffer by not making it connect with his audience. The renderings seemed distant and loose.

A short acoustic set nearly missed its mark by a horrible arrangement of Tears In Heaven, it's stark sentiment buried in syrupy, elevator-style violins from a 20-piece orchestra.

Clapton did manage to save the set with a brilliant take on Change The World, spiced with his vigorous acoustic work.

Those who hung in there long enough did get some ample rewards in the second half.

From that point, it was a revisitation of the Clapton-is-God days, as he let loose with a sturdy set of rock and blues tunes that, for most fans, personifies the soul of Clapton.

Turning his mellow pop-friendly voice into a gravely growl, Clapton dug into the deep blues of Have You Ever Loved A Woman and the hardened soul of Cocaine.

Even his milky rendering of Bob Marley's I Shot The Sheriff got a tuneup as Clapton pumped some guitar muscle into it.

Ending up the evening, Clapton, never one to bow to the nostalgia of his pop stardom, obliged with an appropriate sign-off, Sunshine Of Your Love, as fans cheered lustily _ proving that there is certainly nothing wrong with pleasing the multitudes.