Friday, June 24, 2005

Steve Winwood

Earlier this week I caught Steve Winwood in concert at the Westbury Music Fair, now corporately re-named the North Fork Theater at Westbury. I hadn't planned on attending the show, but a friend offered up a ticket and away I went.

Winwood is one of rock's true journey men, from his breakout single "Gimme Some Lovin'" with the Spencer Davis Group recorded at the age of 16, through the seminal rock band Traffic and what was arguably the first "super group" Blind Faith. Then he experienced a successful solo career with the landmark album "Arc Of A Diver" and later with such radio friendly hits as "Higher Love" and "Back In The Highlife." Known mainly as keyboardist and a great one at that, Winwood is a flat out kick-ass guitarist as well as a fine vocalist. All three aspects of his talent were on display the other night.

He touched on all aspects of his long career with a set that included I'm A Man, Freedom Rider, Glad, Can't Find My Way Back Home, The Low Spark Of High Heeled Boys, and Dear Mr. Fantasy as well as the aforementioned Gimme Some Lovin, Higher Love and Back In The Highlife.

Looking spry and loose behind the Hammond B3, Winwood led a band that consisted of a guitarist, sax/flutist (who also played the Hammond) a drummer and a percussionist. With no bass player on stage, Winwood handled that himself via the organ bass pedals. While very capable at this, the addition of a bassist on stage would have added to the sound.

The band itself was certainly talented. The guitarist, who played a weird headless guitar through a Fender Cybertwin sounded very processed and left me cold. Nothing he played really stood out and when Winwood picked up his strat for Dear Mr. Fantasy - the highpoint of the show for me - it was a relief to hear some "regular" sounding guitar. The two percussionists, one behind a kit and the other behind a set of congas, were very good - but I could only think of how much better the rhythm section would have been with an actual bass player. The sax player mimiced the late Chris Wood's honking sax and breathy flute sounds and even played through a wah-wah pedal.

The main problem with the band - and with Winwood himself - is that as talented as they may be, it was inherently boring. I like Traffic alot, but you have to admit that even their most classic tunes can be called exciting. Not that this is a bad thing, but after a couple of hours it tends to wear a bit thin.