BY STEPHEN PETERSON SUN CHRONICLE STAFF
Monday, January 19, 2009 11:21 AM ESTMASHANTUCKET, Conn. - There are few rock musicians who have had such a varied and storied career as Steve Winwood.
Winwood, 60, out with his first studio album since 2003, put on a show Saturday night at the MGM Grand Theater at Foxwoods.
Having been a key member of pioneer 1960s and early '70s rock bands Spencer Davis Group, Blind Faith and Traffic, the British Winwood and a highly talented band performed songs from those groups along with some of his newer and older solo material.
Besides Winwood's keyboards and at times guitar, the band featured two drummers, a saxophone player and guitarist.
Opening with the lengthy "I'm a Man" from his Spencer Davis years when he was just a teenager - the song was also covered by Chicago and others, Winwood didn't waste any time getting into newer songs with "Hungry Man." The reggae-like song on the new album, "Nine Lives," is about African starvation. The album is appropriately named as it is Winwood's ninth and has nine songs.
The deep soulful singer/songwriter has always blended a variety of genre: rhythm and blues, rock, folk and even world music. Traffic, which had its run from 1967-74 and also had Dave Mason and James Capaldi as members, was heavy on jazz and psychedelic music and influenced Steely Dan, Fleetwood Mac and the Grateful Dead.
Winwood picked up his guitar for Blind Faith's 1969 "Can't Find My Way Home." The tune led to the first of a few standing ovations. The saxophonist sat behind Winwood's organ for this number. Blind Faith also featured Eric Clapton and Ginger Baker from Cream and is considered rock's first supergroup despite just lasting a year.
Winwood stuck to guitar for another new piece, "Dirty City," which Clapton plays on for the album. It is the CD's first single.
It was back to his organ for "Pearly Queen," a hard-driving Traffic song, which the saxophonist played a mean flute on. Band members played solos on "Lighten Up or Leave Me Alone," also from Winwood's Traffic days.
"Higher Love," a No. 1 song off his 1986 Grammy Award-winning and triple platinum "Back in the High Life," wrapped up the main set. The record of the year that has a slew of popular tunes involved James Taylor and Chaka Kahn on vocals.
For the encore, it was another Traffic song, "Dear Mr. Fantasy," which Winwood also played guitar on, and another Spencer Davis Group classic, the soul anthem "Gimme Some Lovin" from 1966.
Although the concert had just a dozen songs, several were extended. Missing were Winwood's hit solo tunes "While You See A Chance," "Back in the High Life," "Freedom Overspill," "Finer Things" and "Roll With It."