While mainstream music these days generally doesn’t excite me, luckily, some great artists from my preferred decades of the ’60s and ’70s are still around and tour. Even though their number is decreasing, I couldn’t possibly see all of them. Too many rock & roll shows, too little time and not enough dough means making tough choices. This can be tricky, especially when it comes to artists I’ve seen before like Steve Winwood. In his case it didn’t take long to convince myself that another gig would be worth it. That show happened last night at New Jersey Performing Arts Center (NJPAC) in Newark and was a true blast, a blast from the past!
Things kicked off when a young woman walked on stage with just an acoustic guitar and casually introduced herself as Lilly Winwood. The 22-year-old singer-songwriter, who released her debut EP Silver Stage last year, is one of Winwood’s four children. I would describe her music as folk-oriented Americana. She has a decent voice and did a beautiful job. Here’s a clip of The Hard Way, a tune from the aforementioned EP. Apparently, it was captured last April at another opening for her dad with whom she has toured for the past couple of years in this role, which also includes singing backup vocals on some of his songs.
Following Lilly’s short set and a brief intermission, it was finally Steve’s turn to take the stage. And he didn’t waste any time to remind the audience that he still is The Man with a great voice who can make that Hammond roar mightily. Winwood’s set kicked off with I’m A Man, released as a single by Spencer Davis Group in January 1967. Here’s a clip. Also, take a look at that kick ass backing band!
In addition to being a master of the Hammond, Winwood is a pretty decent guitarist – frankly, something I sometimes forget. In fact, the bio on his official website notes he also plays the mandolin. Here’s Can’t Find My Way Home, one of the two Blind Faith tunes he played. As he was performing the song, I selfishly thought that I’d be quite okay if the couldn’t find his way home and just would keep on playing all night!
While the show was billed as a journey through the more than five decades of Winwood’s music, most of the set focused on this early work with Spencer Davis Group, Blind Faith and of course Traffic. Here is a classic by the latter he played, Empty Pages, from the John Barleycorn Must Die album released in July 1970.
At the outset of the concert, Winwood stated they eventually would get to playing songs that are more present. After an hour or so into the set, he started to deliver on that promise. Domingo Morning is a tune from his eighth solo album About Time, which appeared in June 2003 – at least something from this century, as Winwood dryly observed. The performance featured a cool extended solo by percussionist Edwin Sanz together with drummer Richard Bailey. Here’s a clip. The sound quality isn’t great, but it’s the only live footage of the track I could find on YouTube.
This was followed by the final two songs of the regular set, Roll With It and Higher Love, Winwood’s only hits that topped the U.S. Billboard Hot 100 in 1988 and 1986, respectively. For both tunes, Lilly joined on backing vocals. I actually thought Steve and her sounded really nice together. Here’s Roll With It, the title track of his fifth solo album from June 1988, my favorite among his more pop-oriented records.
The show’s encore brought three other highlights: John Barleycorn Must Die, Dear Mr. Fantasy and Gimme Some Lovin’. Since I can’t decide which of the three to select, heck, let’s just post clips for each! John Barleycorn Must Die, a traditional arranged by Winwood, is the title track from the above mentioned Traffic album. While the cameraman apparently was quite excited and his hand shook in the beginning of the clip, it gets better as the tune goes on!
Dear Mr. Fantasy is from Traffic’s debut record Fantasy, which appeared in December 1967. I thought this tune featured Winwood’s most impressive guitar work of the night.
Last but not least, Gimme Some Lovin’, the Spencer Davis Group classic from 1967. What a great tune to finish a terrific show!
This post wouldn’t be complete without acknowledging Winwood’s fantastic backing band: In addition to Bailey (drums) and Sanz (percussion), the line-up included José Neto (guitar) and Paul Booth (saxophone, flute, keyboards) – no bass! With Baily and Sanz forming a compelling rhythm section, I can’t say I was missing a bass, which somewhat pains to admit as a former bassist.
According to the schedule, The 2018 Greatest Hits Live Tour is hitting Upper Darby, Pa. tonight and will travel to Mashantucket, Conn. tomorrow. The sold out tour wraps up on March 15 in Bethlehem, Pa.
Sources: Wikipedia, Setlist.fm, Steve Winwood official website, Billboard Chart History, YouTube