I want to start out by thanking Eric Clapton for all of the wonderful collaborations he's been a part of this last decade. First he founded the incredible Crossroads Guitar Festival in 2004, which spawned two of the best concert DVDs of the past ten years. Then in 2005 he reunited one of the most renowned power-trios of all time, Cream, for an amazing run of concerts at the famous The Royal Albert Hall.
After the second — and even better — Crossroads Festival in 2007, he joined the legendary Jeff Beck on stage a few months later at Ronnie Scott's Jazz Club for the filming of the latter's first-ever concert DVD. And as if that weren't enough for devoted Slowhand disciples, Clapton then joined blues-rock guitarist (and my current favorite) Joe Bonamassa onstage earlier this year at the Royal Albert Hall.
Going back four decades ago, Clapton was part of the short-lived "super-group" called Blind Faith, whose other members included Steve Winwood, Ginger Baker, and Rick Gretch. The band was only together long enough to release one self-titled album in 1969 before quickly dissolving later that same year after a brief tour.
Winwood and Clapton's musical paths would not cross again until the two performed a blistering set of Blind Faith classics at the 2007 Crossroads Festival. It was so well received — and they enjoyed playing together again so much — that they decided to do a run of concerts together last February, at New York's Madison Square Garden. This excellent new concert DVD is the result of that magnificent collaboration.
Live From Madison Square Garden features a nostalgic 20-song set that includes all of the essential Blind Faith material, several classic cover songs, and a few songs each from Clapton and Winwood's vast catalogs. They said that Clapton picked Winwood's songs; and Winwood picked Clapton's tracks, which is why you might be surprised to see such '80s gems as "Forever Man" and "Split Decision" as two of the set's highlights.
After the arena lights are extinguished to signal the start of the show, the camera follows Clapton as he walks out on stage with his Fender Stratocaster already hanging from his shoulders. Moments later, Winwood emerges from the shadows and is handed his own light-green-colored Strat from a roadie. They kick off the proceedings with the lead Blind Faith album track, "Had To Cry Today," and I could think of no better way to commence this momentous reunion. They perform the entire first side of that legendary album, as well as a song that would later appear on the 2001 expanded, deluxe edition, "Sleeping In The Ground."
Frustratingly, there is interview footage interspersed between each and every song performance. Yet it's within these clips that we learn how Clapton and Winwood had already decided to cover the Buddy Miles song, "Them Changes," two days before they learned of his death, and without even knowing he had been seriously ill. It ends up being a more timely tribute than they could have ever imagined.
Clapton's oft-maligned '80s hit "Forever Man" is a real treat here, with Slowhand laying down some of the most passionate singing and guitar work he has done in a long while as Winwood contributes some marvelous organ and background vocals to the mix. Clapton returns the favor on Winwood's "Split Decision," by tackling all of the fuzzed-out guitar parts that Joe Walsh had performed so brilliantly on this mid-80's pop-rock gem.
There are no less than four Traffic songs performed, and they provide a few of the concert highlights. The absolute showstopper of the night — as it was on the Crossroads 2007 DVD — is the epic classic, "Dear Mr. Fantasy." Winwood steps out from behind the keyboards to duel with Clapton on guitar, both men trading some monster licks back and forth. Winwood may not quite be considered Clapton's peer on the guitar, but here he comes pretty damn close.
The best parts of the show for me, though, are the two Jimi Hendrix covers that led up to the "Fantasy" closer. After a beautifully soulful rendition of "Little Wing," they tear into a 17-minute, tour-de-force rendition of "Voodoo Chile" that features some of the best guitar work Clapton has turned in since the Cream reunion. Winwood's extraordinary Hammond organ playing on these two songs alone show why he is considered one of the best keyboardists in the business. In the interview segment just before this performance, Clapton admits he had never performed "Voodoo Chile" prior and said it felt like "stepping off a cliff" to tackle that one. Wait until you see the results.
The film was directed by Martyn Atkins, the same guy who did the Cream and Crossroads 2007 DVDs, so you know this one is similarly fantastic. The picture and camera work are about as good as it gets. Your two audio options are DTS 5.1 surround and PCM stereo and I'll challenge you to find a complaint about either of these two powerhouse tracks.
Besides the main concert DVD, a second disk full of the following special features is also included:
1. The Road to Madison Square Garden: An exclusive documentary featuring new interviews with Clapton and Winwood, together with rare footage and photographs of Cream, Traffic and Blind Faith.
2. Rambling On My Mind: The final preparation for the three legendary performances highlighted by an acoustic soundcheck performance by Clapton of the Robert Johnson standard "Rambling On My Mind."
3. Bonus Madison Square Garden Performances of "Lowdown," "Kind Hearted Woman" and "Crossroads."
01. Had To Cry Today
02. Them Changes
03. Forever Man
04. Sleeping In The Ground
05. Presence Of The Lord
07. Well All Right
08. Double Trouble
09. Pearly Queen
10. Tell The Truth
11. No Face, No Name, No Number
12. After Midnight
13. Split Decision
14. Rambling On My Mind
15. Georgia On My Mind
16. Little Wing
17. Voodoo Chile
18. Can't Find My Way Home
19. Dear Mr. Fantasy