Sunday, May 4, 2008

Steve Winwood: I'm Not There

It's Sunday night and I'm home in my apartment near DC. A few hours north of here, the other two-thirds of the WeightStaff are enjoying a live concert by Steve Winwood at the oh so small Blender Theater near Gramercy Park in New York City. Tonight is the only scheduled proper concert for Stevie and his band before they hit the road on May 30th, when they'll kick off their opening duties for Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers in Grand Rapids, MI. For the time being, he's in New York doing press for his just released album Nine Lives. He'll be on Letterman Tuesday night (May 6th).

I would love to be there, at the Blender Theater, but I just left NYC a few days ago after witnessing the first concert from The Verve in Manhattan in a decade, and I'm making a quick return trip for Wednesday night's Jammy Awards. Coincidentally, the second time I saw Steve Winwood play in person was in March 2004 when the Jammy's presented him with the Lifetime Achievement award. One of the highlights of the night was Winwood's mini-set that featured fantastic performances of 'Gimme Some Lovin' and 'Dear Mr. Fantasy'. The latter song featured a jaw-dropping guitar solo from him, who I didn't know played guitar. Since then, I saw his rain drenched set on the main stage at Bonnaroo in the summer of 2004 and I had the pleasure of attending the opening night of his three-night run with Eric Clapton at Madison Square Garden, a night I consider to be one of the best concerts I have ever witnessed. If you must know, the first time I saw him play live was when he surprised 60,000 of us by taking to the stage with Widespread Panic at the inaugural Bonnaroo festival in 2002.

So as I sit here listening to my just opened copy of Nine Lives, my friends at the show are teasing me with text messages from inside the venue. So far they've informed me that he's played: "Light Up or Leave Me Alone," "Crossroads," and "Back In The High Life Again." I'm sure he sounds great live tonight...but I have to say he sounds pretty damn good on my stereo. What stands out most about this album is both fantastic musicianship and top notch production (the album was produced by Winwood). All of the instruments sound perfectly mixed. The most prominent styles featured on the disc are latin (percussion) and jazz, with these extended instrumental breaks filled in by Steve's vocals and organ work. But don't get me wrong, this is not simply a recorded jam session. These songs have an orchestrated structure...a structure that allows his band to show off their talents. The second track, "Fly," which stands out as my favorite, features beautifully incorporated soprano sax and flute, accompanying Steve's Hammond fills and trademark soulful singing. The track almost reaches eight minutes in length and it never gets boring; the musicianship is just too good to want it to end. "Dirty City," featuring guitar work by Eric Clapton is a track that I have heard regularly on a local radio station. It takes some time to peak, but towards the latter half of the song Eric really steps up and lays down some stellar guitar work. The second half of the tune reminds me of what I loved so much about their collaboration at The Garden in February.

So many of these songs would be feel right at home on any Traffic album, but they don't sound dated. 'Timeless' would be the right word to use here. Fantastic musicianship still works in 2008. I've already listened it all the way through twice and I'm ready to give it another spin. At a time where I have virtually no attention span to listen to more than a couple songs by any artist, let alone an entire album, that is saying a lot about how much I'm enjoying this one. The only real criticism I have is that too many of the songs simply fade out, whereas I would love to hear some of them extend even further. Maybe Steve and the band played a twenty minute "Fly" tonight...that would be great....but I wouldn't know...I'm not there.


Barbara(aka Layla) said...

No fair! I am sorry you had to miss the show :(

rockandrollguru said...

How dare they go without you! Sounds like a mutiny in the works.

Can't wait to see Winwood and Petty July 5th at Summerfest in Milwaukee. Come to town for it and I'll be your host. Summerfest is the world's largest music festival (believe it or not). We get nearly a million people for the 11-day run and it's an amazing festival.

Anonymous said...

great article. love me some winwood.