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Concert Review: Eric Clapton & Steve Winwood at Madison Square Garden, NYC, 2/28/08

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When Eric Clapton and Steve Winwood reunited for a short set at last year’s Crossroads Festival in Chicago, their chemistry sparked in ways that left fans wowed and wanting more. Last week in New York City, they reconvened for their first full-length concerts together since the breakup of Blind Faith in 1969. Closing out a three-night stand at Madison Square Garden on February 28, the two legends thrilled a sold-out audience with plenty of awe-inspiring moments and one colossal setlist.

Indeed, this was no routine greatest hits concert, but a blues-heavy fusion of Blind Faith mixed with selective songs from their respective careers as well as others from peers and influences. Rounding out the band were bassist Willie Weeks, keyboardist Chris Stanton, and drummer Ian Thomas. Setting the tone straight off, Clapton dug into the leaden riff of “Had To Cry Today” as Winwood’s soaring voice took flight.

Following a brisk cover of J.J. Cale’s “Low Down,” both men ran roughshod through Clapton’s “Forever Man,” the song sounding far ballsier than its original version. Winwood somberly announced the passing of musician Buddy Miles before a raucous rendition of “Them Changes” was played in his honor. And when Clapton commenced with “Presence Of The Lord,” the celestial energy in the air felt electric.

Winwood offered particularly striking performances of Traffic songs, from the rollicking instrumental, “Glad,” which segued into “Well All Right,” to a sparse and mesmerizing rendition of “No Face, No Name, No Number,” drawing a massive ovation from the audience.

In back-to-back solo segments, Clapton played an acoustic guitar on “Kind Hearted Woman Blues” before Winwood took to the Hammond organ, arguably giving his finest vocal performance of the night with “Georgia On My Mind.” Clapton (and others, assuredly) has compared Winwood’s voice – as far back as his days with the Spencer Davis Group – to that of a “white” Ray Charles. On this song, he sounded genuinely like Ray Charles.

With everyone reassembled on stage, Clapton and Winwood began what would amount to a monstrous, nearly twenty-minute homage to Hendrix. With “Little Wing,” they played with skill and reverence. On “Voodoo Chile,” they plowed through an extended and devastating surge of blues and passion, saturated by Clapton’s fiery solos and Winwood’s ascending vocals until the song – and the concert – reached critical mass.

Revisiting their shared past one last time, Clapton and Winwood gave a fantastic performance of “Can’t Find My Way Home,” its ethereal aura brilliant as ever. “Cocaine” then erupted to close out the main set, with Clapton going to work on the wah-wah pedal while the audience danced in the aisles. And in all its psychedelic glory, “Dear Mr. Fantasy” served as the consummate encore, beginning with its trippy groove and climbing toward its frenetic climax and ultimate conclusion. Much like their set at Crossroads, this magnificent concert as well as the entire three-night stand will undoubtedly have fans of Eric Clapton and Steve Winwood clamoring for even more.

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About Donald Gibson

Donald Gibson is the publisher of www.writeonmusic.com and a freelance music journalist whose byline has appeared in such publications as No Depression, Spinner, The Seattle Post Intelligencer, Cinema Sentries, Blinded by Sound, and Blogcritics, where he was the Senior Music Editor (2011-2012) and Assistant Music Editor (2008-2011). He has interviewed and profiled such artists as Tony Bennett, Lucinda Williams, Jakob Dylan, Allen Toussaint, Boz Scaggs, Charli XCX, Justin Hayward (The Moody Blues), Susanna Hoffs, Bruce Hornsby, Delbert McClinton, Jonny Lang, Alan Parsons, Bill Frisell, Joan Armatrading, Christina Perri, Don Felder (The Eagles), Jimmy Webb, Katie Melua, and Buddy Guy, among many others.
  • http://theglenblog.blogspot.com Glen Boyd

    So you know that I’m gonna have to kill you for getting to witness this Donald. Seriously though, I would have loved to see Clapton and Winwood doing those tributes to Hendrix and Buddy Miles. I was fortunate enough to see Blind Faith during one of the group’s last performances together in 1969 in Hawaii. I have great memories of that concert. Great review Donald.

    -Glen

  • http://donaldgibson.blogspot.com/ Donald Gibson

    Thanks Glen (although, about the whole killing me deal, could ya wait until after the Springsteen shows?).

    This was seriously one great show. It was one of those concerts where you feel like your jaw has dropped for 2 1/2 hours. You wonder if it can get any better and the next song proves it can.

    – Donald

  • http://theglenblog.blogspot.com Glen Boyd

    Don’t worry Donald, I’ll let you live long enough to see Bruce. By the way I almost forgot to mention, thanx for the linky love on the Crossroads review.

    -Glen

  • John Scott

    I have been fortunate enough to see both Clapton and Winwood in concert, but gawd, how I would love to see this show. Guess I’ll have to pray that a DVD results.