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Clapton / Winwood, Madison Square Garden, NYC: Blind Faith will be rewarded February 25, 2008

Posted by Anton A in American music, British music, Steve Winwood.
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Winwood and Clapton complement each other so well on so many levels – their similar but distinct voices, their more individual approaches to the guitar, Winwood’s mastery of both the Hammond & the piano against Clapton’s Strat tones – they gave us 2 & 1/2 hours of stunning textures and inspired performances. Hearing those Blind Faith songs performed again after all of these decades by the guys who wrote those singular melodies and chord changes, drifting away with the Traffic / Winwood nuggets, boogieing to Clapton’s bluesy tunes, with the ghosts of all the blues and rock musicians who created this particular river of music hovering over the arena – it was a night where many legacies were affirmed and renewed.

Few ghosts loomed larger than that of Jimi Hendrix, who got an early nod with the performance of Them Changes, then later a deep tribute with Little Wing and Voodoo Chile back-to-back. The slow propulsive jam in Voodoo Chile pushed Clapton to his absolute best; he delivered a long skittering wail of a solo that evoked Hendrix, Robert Johnson, Albert King, Stevie Ray, anyone you might think of; it was like he reached up into the astral plane and opened a door that let a thousand blues-drenched souls fly around the Garden for a couple of minutes. It was spellbinding.

Say what you will about some of Clapton’s musical choices and penchant for MOR stuff over the years (and I’ve said quite a few of those things myself), sustained moments like Voodoo Chile make you remember why those loopy children of The Sixties wrote “Clapton Is God” graffiti all over London. (I don’t think he’s God but I think he’s got a pretty good line to Up There.)

I’ve been a Traffic fan since 1967 and a Winwood fan straight on through those years when I’d lost interest in what Clapton was doing. I’ve seen several of his solo tours, and it’s always been a thrill to see him perform even when he was supporting a less than stellar album. While there weren’t any setlist surprises from the Traffic / solo side of things for me, the quality of his voice and those floating jazz-tinged melodies made every song sound new again.

Crossroads has been a staple in Winwood’s sets for 5 years or so, as I presume it has in Clapton’s for several decades. Seeing them play it together was the perfect ending for this show.

The rest of the band that supported these delirious flights deserves mention: Willie Weeks on bass, Ian Thomas on drums and Chris Stainton on keys. Check out Stainton’s resume on Wikipedia – his years with Joe Cocker, session work on two of The Who’s most important studio albums, more years with Clapton, the Concert For George – this guy has been around.

When Clapton sat down alone at the front of the stage with an acoustic guitar to perfrom Ramblin’ On My Mind, he said something on the order of, “This is the point where I’m supposed to speak and I’ve been wanting to say something all night. I’m not quite sure how to say it, but I’m having an absolutely great time tonight and I’m not sure, but I think that Steve is too and if he is, maybe we’ll do a little more of this.” Maybe they will. We can hope.


Set List:

Had To Cry Today
Low Down
Forever Man
Them Changes (the Buddy Miles song from Band of Gypsys)
Sleeping in the Ground
Presence of the Lord
Glad/Well All Right
Double Trouble
Pearly Queen
Tell the Truth
No Face, No Name, No Number
After Midnight
Split Decision (from Winwood’s Back In The High Life)
Ramblin’ On My Mind (Clapton solo acoustic)
Georgia On My Mind (Winwood solo at the Hammond)
Little Wing
Voodoo Chile
Can’t Find My Way Home
Dear Mr. Fantasy