Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Clapton and Winwood: Back To the Garden

Some months back, November I believe, it was announced that Eric Clapton and Steve Winwood would be playing a full concert together. This news was revealed on the heels of an extended sit-in between the two old friends and bandmates at the 2007 Crossroads Festival held last summer. As the February reunion dates got closer, there was no indication of the level of pre-show hype that surrounded the Cream reunion and I'm not sure why that is. In my mind, these shows certainly deserved equal hype. It's not like it hasn't been a long time since this duo has teamed up for a proper concert. It's not like Steve Winwood is any less of an important musician or has had any less of a career than Ginger Baker and Jack Bruce did after they left Cream. If anything, Steve Winwood has been nothing short of a superstar since Blind Faith last played together almost 40 years ago. Maybe if these shows had happened before the Cream reunion, things would have been different. Maybe if I had been alive during the 60s I would think differently. The hype was certainly enough to sell out the Garden over three nights and probably could have over even more, but honestly, where was the buzz in the music world for this historic show?

Of course, you couldn't convince any of the 18,000 packed into the arena above Penn Station on the west side of New York that they weren't witnessing rock n' roll history. They all knew full well that Clapton and Winwood hadn't played a concert together since a short Summer tour in 1969, the only tour that Blind Faith would ever attempt. And they also knew that the first American show of that lone tour took place at the very same venue. Well, maybe they didn't know that last fact, but I certainly did!

After walking by the $40 t-shirts and $55 posters, with disdain about the ridiculous prices, which interestingly were on sale outside of the MSG gates, we wandered around the concourse looking for Section 314. Having found our seats, and discovering our view perched above stage-right (Winwood-side), they turned out to provide quite the excellent positioning, considering that Clapton would spend much of the night directly facing Winwood/us, during the many songs when Steve was sitting at the B3 or the grand piano. Steve spent most of the night on keys, but started and ended the show on guitar, playing leads and solos that neared the prowess of Slowhand himself. In addition to his piano and axe work, Winwood showed that the powerhouse voice which led the Spencer Davis Group and Traffic back in the 60s had not faded one bit. Clapton was in fine vocal form too, but he couldn't reach the power and soul of Winwood's singing. Take that Jack Bruce.

Another observation of note was the small size of the band, only 5 pieces deep. With Eric and Steve being two of those 5 and two others being drums and bass, this concert was led musically by the two superstars, keeping the pressure to deliver on both of them for the entire night. There was no horn section, no background singers, and no second and third guitarists for Clapton to fall back on. This was significant. The fifth member of the band sat in as a second keyboardist, playing organ fills when Steve was on the grand and playing acoustic piano tones when Steve played guitar at the front of the stage alongside Clapton. I can't imagine that outside of the few Cream reunion shows, that Eric has often not had the luxury of an enormous band to fill in the gaps for him, which typically provide the comfort for him to take a backseat when needed. I also believe that the phenomenal talent that Winwood brings to the stage forced Eric to step it up from his normal live concert routine. Not only was Clapton playing an atypical set list, without the requisite Wonderful Tonight, Layla, and I Shot The Sheriff, he had a sparring partner in Winwood who has just as much talent as he does and they continuously pushed each other to keep the bar high. As I mentioned, the set list that these two played last night featured songs that they haven't played in concert in many many years. This contributed to the uniqueness of the occasion that we all felt sitting in the audience. I also want to mention how great it was to see Clapton playing rhythm to Winwood's blistering lead guitar solo on the outro of the set closing Dear Mr. Fantasy. Winwood has been playing this tune, one of my favorites, on a nightly basis for years and years and he clearly knows how to do it justice, bringing down the house just before the band left the stage.

I also have to mention the Garden crowd last night. I've read in some other reviews that the crowd was not into the show enough, as they were seated throughout most of it. Whereas I do agree that most of the arena remained seated, the applause and adulation that they put forth after each and every song was stellar. When I pay almost $200 for a ticket to see a band that was together during the summer of Woodstock, I'm not expecting to be amongst a crowd that is going to stand for the duration of the concert. What do you expect...hippie chicks twirling in the aisles and barefoot dudes noodle dancing in the bathrooms? Leave that for the Phish reunion.

So all this review so far, and I've hardly mentioned any songs yet. In a nutshell, the setlist was full of highlights. This was one of those concerts where one amazing song led into the next amazing song. Whether a tune was carried by Steve's vocals or his organ playing or Clapton's blues singing or picking or the stellar jams by a band that sounded like they'd been playing together for years, there was constantly something fantastic to tune your attention to. Ranging from Blind Faith tracks, Traffic songs, Winwood tunes, Clapton tunes, Hendrix covers, and some others, the setlist covered it all. Particularly enjoyable were the solo numbers, performed alone on stage, first by Clapton on acoustic guitar and then by Winwood on the B3 organ. During this section, Clapton performed 'Ramblin On My Mind,' a song that Clapton recorded with John Mayall before the formation of Cream and 'Georgia On My Mind,' a song that Winwood released with the Spencer Davis Group before the formation of Traffic.

From the stage, during his solo number, Eric told of how much he was enjoying playing with his old Blind Faith bandmate, and also how he would like to keep on playing shows with him. This was a clear indication that this reunion would not go the way of Cream, who will probably never play together again. Reading online today, I saw that Clapton and Winwood are set to play together in Toronto in May. So for all those of you who think that you have missed your chance to see these two superstars together, you will almost certainly have another chance. Just have faith.


01. Had To Cry Today
02. Low Down
03. Forever Man
04. Them Changes
05. Sleeping In The Ground
06. Presence Of The Lord
07. Glad / Well Alright
08. Double Trouble
09. Pearly Queen
10. Tell The Truth
11. No Face
12. After Midnight
13. Split Decision
14. Ramblin On My Mind (EC solo acoustic)
15. Georgia On My Mind (SW solo hammond)
16. Little Wing
17. Voodoo Chile
18. Can't Find My Way Home
19. Dear Mr Fantasy

20. Crossroads

1 comment:

Oliver said...

Great review. I have one question though, didn't it go Glad -> Freedom Rider and then into Well Alright. I remember the Freedom Rider portion pretty well. I thought the crowd was great as well. Knew the material and was really appreciative. Also kept quiet during the quiet parts.