Winwood Gives Hub Some Lovin'
Boston Herald, October 16th, 2005
Long before 'jam band' entered the music lexicon, Steve Winwood encouraged his bandmates to improvise and improve on recorded versions of his songs. Even in the late '60s, Traffic, the greatest band to never have a top-40 hit, would think nothing of stretching a three-minute pop song into a 15-minute opus.
Friday night at the Orpheum, Winwood, during a riveting three-hour show, played that improv thing to the hilt. Like Bob Dylan, Winwood continues to reinvent himself and tinker with his most beloved songs. ``Low Spark of High-Heeled Boys,'' a classic Traffic track from 1971, was so long that before it ended we're sure autumn changed into winter. ``Rainmaker'' segued into War's ``Slippin' Into Darkness,'' with a bruising Junior Walker-like sax break by Jay Davidson, and then into a long free-form funky jazz riff.
But it all worked, thanks to a simpatico quartet: Jose Neto (guitar), Karl Vanden Bossche (percussion), Davide Giovannini (drums) and Davidson (sax and flute). There was no bass player; Winwood's manipulation of his ancient wooden Hammond B3 organ took care of that.
An extended, funky version of ``Forty Thousand Headman'' and the Latin-accented ``Different Light'' quickly warmed the well-behaved older crowd, which had sought refuge from the umpteenth consecutive day of rain.
``Good evening you lovely old people in this lovely old theater,'' said Winwood in one of his few asides to the crowd. ``We're going to play you some lovely old songs . . . and some new ones, too.''
Indeed, Winwood, a boyish-looking 57, touched on all smiling phases of his 40-year career, from the groundbreaking Traffic to Blind Faith to his better-known solo career.
Is he the same boy he used to be? Actually, he seems happier onstage now than he did during those 1980s shows in Mansfield when he was promoting his overproduced superslick hits that have become staples on soft-rock radio.
For much of the night, Winwood was content to hide in the shadows, seated behind his Hammond B3. The moments he stood center stage were sublime: a heartfelt version of Blind Faith's ``Can't Find My Way Home'' - it's still hard to believe that Winwood and Eric Clapton were in the same band! - and a mandolin-fueled ``Back in the High Life.'' Best of all was a psychedelicized ``Dear Mr. Fantasy''; Winwood strapped on an electric guitar and delivered one jaw-dropping solo after another .
The encore featured Winwood's two highest-charting hits: a calypso-fied ``Higher Love'' and ``Gimme Some Lovin','' which he recorded at age 15 with the Spencer Davis Group.