Eric Clapton, Royal Albert Hall, London<br/>Dogs Die In Hot Cars, Islington Academy, London

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Woke up this morning, got those "I'm going to see Eric Clapton" blues. Said I woke up this morning, and... OK, let's be honest. For any pop critic except the most slavishly sycophantic, slagging Slowhand is the easy stuff. He's become a byword for a certain kind of sterile virtuosity, a shorthand signifier for a multitude of rock dinosaur sins. It barely needs re-stating. Fish in a barrel. Candy from a baby. Cow's arse with a banjo.

Woke up this morning, got those "I'm going to see Eric Clapton" blues. Said I woke up this morning, and... OK, let's be honest. For any pop critic except the most slavishly sycophantic, slagging Slowhand is the easy stuff. He's become a byword for a certain kind of sterile virtuosity, a shorthand signifier for a multitude of rock dinosaur sins. It barely needs re-stating. Fish in a barrel. Candy from a baby. Cow's arse with a banjo.

So much so, in fact, that my natural contrariness rebelled against it, and I pondered whether I could make a case for Clapton's defence. Sadly, for two long hours at the Royal Albert Hall, Eric Clapton proves that some clichés are clichés because they're true.

I haven't been this bored since Double Maths in 1983. Rarely have I been to a gig which is so "good" (where "good" equals compact disc, digitally-remastered, Dolby-compressed perfect), but seldom have I been to one so bereft of all those things like sex, danger, passion and excitement which, surely, we all got into rock'n'roll for in the first place. (Oh, there are plenty of songs about sex, but hearing the grey, bespectacled Clapton singing "I want my little girl to love me", lusting after a "milk cow" and boasting that he's got his "mojo working" is just a little stomach-turning.) This is blues as a dusty museum exhibit, not a living spirit.

And there's the rub. The generation who declared Clapton "God" may have had beards and straggly hippie hair, but they had secretly inherited the stiffness of their (pre-rock'n'roll) parents, impressed by such virtues as sobriety, rectitude and professionalism (leaving aside the awkward fact that Clapton spent much of his heyday in a drugged, alcoholic haze).

And they're here tonight, looking (and dancing) like their stiff, sober parents, and applauding the professionalism of Clapton and his band. It all begins when some tricky piano work from the (admittedly brilliant) keyboardist - who happens to be soul legend and Beatles collaborator Billy Preston - draws an individual mid-song ripple of clapping and "woohs" and "yeahs". From then on, every time Clapton, or Preston, or another band member does something showy, they get the same reception. Once it's started, it becomes consensually agreed that this is what you do at an Eric Clapton concert. Hits like "I Shot The Sheriff" and blues standards like "Hoochie Coochie Man" are mere pretexts, loose frameworks for Clapton's spotlight-hogging fretwork, stroking and bending the strings of his red Stratocaster. With every ear-splitting top-note - I've never heard a lead guitar pitched so squealingly high in the mix - the crowd goes wild.

Suddenly, it becomes clear to me that this crowd is applauding musical feats on the basis of how difficult they are to execute, not on whether they were worth executing. It's a fundamental misunderstanding of what music is, and what it's for. These people don't like music, they like musicians. They are, therefore, the absolute antitheses of everything I believe in.

Midway through, Clapton sits down for a section of Robert Johnson songs, as featured on his latest album, Me And Mr Johnson. The picture on the cover is a monumental conceit, depicting a time-travel meeting between Clapton and the soul-selling bluesman. In real life, we all know this would never have happened: Clapton would have been at the airport, shopping Johnson to Immigration.

Yes, I know. You've been counting down the paragraphs until I raised that one. Eric Clapton's infamous drunken speech in support of Enoch Powell, in which he spoke of his fears that Britain was becoming a "black colony" and his wish to "get the foreigners out", was 28 years ago now. Surely, if some of my antipathy towards Clapton is caused by residual resentment over something he said off the cuff in 1976, I should get over it? Well, it might be easier if Clapton had actually retracted. He's been given countless opportunities and every time he's refused. Only last month, he justified his position to Uncut magazine, with a dubious philanthropic spin: "We were inviting people in under false premises... inviting people in as cheap labour and then putting them in ghettos." He unrepentantly described Powell as "outrageously brave... he spoke from the heart."

As Clapton's set rattles through its inevitable hit-packed finale - "Badge", "Wonderful Tonight", "Layla", "Cocaine", "Sunshine Of Your Love" - I stop listening to his awful singing (those inadequate, imitation bluesman growls), and contemplate his band, which has as many black members as white. How must they feel, knowing that their boss would have had them (or their parents) turned away at the docks?

But enough about Clapton. The previous night I find myself watching a new-ish band with the arresting, somewhat upsetting name of Dogs Die In Hot Cars, who are one of the most exciting things I've come across in the last 12 months. DDIHC, a band of early twentysomethings from St Andrews in Fife, draw largely on eccentric English New Wave sounds which were around when they were still unborn. Their live set necessarily leans on the more immediate and noisy end of their catalogue, like the almost ridiculously melodic "Man Bites Man", the urgent 2-tone ska of "I Love You Cos I Have To" and the white funk of "Godhopping". But delve into the B-sides and extra tracks on their EPs, and you'll find echoes of everything from English folk to ancient Christmas carols.

"Our music is the sound of life travelling at the rate of 60 seconds per minute," they have stated. And all life is here. DDIHC are too smart to be permanently sombre or permanently sunny. One minute Craig MacIntosh is singing a silly love song that starts "I love Lucy/ I love Lucy Liu/ Yes I love her twice as much as you", the next he's singing a desperately moving one about the working class condition with lines like, "Were the teachers any good at it, were they good at their jobs?/ It must be hard, can they handle it when we've become what we said we'd not?" Theirs is a confused and intelligent response to the modern world (because the only intelligent response is confusion). Their words and music are the natural creations of bright people who have been force-fed the detritus of 20th- and 21st-century culture all their lives, and are spewing it out and sculpting new art from the wreckage.

There's probably a ceiling on how big a band like Dogs Die In Hot Cars can get, but right now they're simultaneously one of the most inventive bands in Britain, and one of the most accessible. From where I'm standing, that's pretty close to perfection.

Eric Clapton: Royal Albert Hall, London SW7 (020 7589 8212), Mon & Tue. Dogs Die In Hot Cars: Met Lounge, Peterborough (01733 566100), ton; Roadhouse, Manchester (0161 228 1789), Mon; Raigmore, Inverness (01463 221546), Wed; Lemon Tree, Aberdeen (01224 642230), Thur; King Tut's, Glasgow (0141 221 5279), Fri; tour continues

s.price@independent.co.uk

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