Concert Review- Steve Winwood at the Paramount Theater 6/22/14
Way back in 1969, ” when dinosaurs still roamed the earth “, as Patterson Hood says, a young Steve Winwood was turned loose from Traffic ( above ) and the cult following generated by ” Dear Mr. Fantasy “, ” Colored Rain “, and ” Forty Thousand Headmen “, by the departure of Dave Mason, who went on to make one great record, ” Alone Together “, followed by a bunch of soft pop/rocks like ” We Just Disagree “. Winwood, however, was pulled into Rock’s first supergroup, Blind Faith, with two superstars from Cream, Eric Clapton and Ginger Baker. The band recorded one eponymous LP ( those vinyl things now making a righteous comeback ) and did one tour of the U.K. and the U.S. before imploding.
Clapton went on to tour briefly with Delaney and Bonnie before joining his soul mate, Duane ” Skydog ” Allman, in the equally short-lived Derek and the Dominoes ( the namesake of current world-class guitarist Derek Trucks ) and recording arguably Clapton’s best work, ” Layla “. Winwood began work on a solo LP but soon called in his Traffic cohorts Jim Capaldi and Chris Wood, and the solo project became another Traffic LP, the classic ” John Barleycorn Must Die “, and a string of later LPs including his critically acclaimed and still-popular ” Low Spark of High-Heeled Boys “. Winwood’s R and B cred from his early days as a teenage prodigy improbably fronting the Spencer Davis Group ( and credibly singing ” I’m A Man ” at 17 years old!), coupled with his hippie/psychedelia props from Traffic, made him an in-demand session player, culminating perhaps in his appearance on ” Voodoo Child ” on Hendrix’ seminal ” Electric Ladyland ” .
Winwood went on to make several acclaimed solo records in the 80s and 90s, and has toured with many notables, including Clapton, Santana, and this fall, Tom Petty. So when he rolled with it into Denver ‘s lovely Paramount Theater, it was with one of the largest and most loved catalogs of jazz-influenced blues/rock songs of any living artist, spanning from Spencer Davis in 1963 to the present. But there would be very little current or even recent tunes on this tour, no ” Valerie “, no ” Back In the High Life “, no ” Finer Things “, no ” Roll With It “. The most recent song was 1986’s ” Higher Love ” . Did any of the aging Anglo Boomers in the house care? Nope!
Starting his set with a slow build around ” Rainmaker “, Winwood immediately went deep with ” I’m A Man”, before moving from the Hammond to guitar for a lovely version of Blind Faith’s ” Can’t Find My Way Home “, then into the first Traffic era with ” Medicated Goo “. While initially considered primarily a keyboardist, Winwood has always been a fine guitarist, and his solos on these tunes, as well as later on ” Dear Mr. Fantasy “, showed that his stringed chops are intact. He slipped in a well-chosen cover of Buddy Miles’ ” Them Changes “, first heard by many on Hendrix’ ” Band of Gypsies “, that could easily have fit into the R and B-laced Spencer Davis catalog.
The highlight of the set was a terrific version of ” Low Spark “, that segued into ” Empty Pages” from ” John Barleycorn “. Winwood was in strong voice for his age ( smile when you say that, whippersnapper! ), and displayed his well-known tasteful touch on the keys to the delight of the crowd, many of whom sang along to even his earliest material. An extended version of Jim Capaldi’s ” Light Up Or Leave Me Alone ” followed, with a jammy chorus of ” Light Up, Light Up ” a seeming siren song to the no doubt many Coloradans who would be doing exactly that once they left the building. The encore was a great ” Dear Mr. Fantasy “, probably the first Traffic song heard by most in the house, followed by the obligatory ” Gimme Some Lovin’ “, which in turn was likely the first Winwood vocal any had heard. Aching joints and aged muscles creaked everywhere as the crowd rose to roar its approval.
Looking around the house as the lights came up, there was nary a ticketholder born in the 60s or later. I saw a grand total of two African-Americans the entire evening. It is troubling to think that Winwood’s demographic is that limited, or that Boomers are the only ones with sufficient disposable income to shell out $90 to hear a guy play tunes he released 40 years ago. I’d like to think that Winwood is still writing new material and challenging himself as an artist, and more than that, I’d like to hear him play the new stuff for his fans instead of obliging their understandable desire to relive the halcyon days of rock. Yes, he updated the classics with some slightly altered arrangements, but it was clearly a night of ” give ’em what they wanna hear ” rather than ” I’m still kickin’; listen to this! ” A great show, no doubt, but no new memories created in the Mile High City that night.
Many thanks to our roving correspondent Nanker Phledge for getting a ride from the Alzheimers Unit to attend the show!