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Music DVD Review: Eric Clapton & Steve Winwood – Live from Madison Square Garden

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First and foremost, this is pretty great stuff I gotta say. But it is also kind of bittersweet. Allow me to explain…

The first time I saw Eric Clapton and Steve Winwood play together was on their — prior to now — one and only tour together as the massively hyped “supergroup” Blind Faith back in 1969. Back then, the term “supergroup” was in fact pretty much invented for them — well for them, and for Crosby Stills & Nash I guess.

The idea was to take the best parts of their previous megabands — in this case it was Cream and Traffic — and put them together with the idea of selling zillions and zillions of records.

The night I saw Blind Faith in 1969 (at just 13 years old I might add) at the H.I.C. Arena in Hawaii — on what I’m pretty sure was their last performance together as a group — the tension between them was obvious. By this point, the much ballyhooed “supergroup” had already broken up, and were simply playing out the commitments of their lone megatour.

But what was also quite obvious was the undeniable chemistry between Clapton and Winwood in particular.

Drummer Ginger Baker may have already been imagining the possibilities of his short-lived jazz megagroup Airforce, and who knows what bassist Rick Grech was thinking.

But Clapton and Winwood — despite the pressures I’m quite sure both were feeling — were obviously meant to play together. Both obviously went on to far bigger and better things over the course of time. But in the meantime, one could only imagine the possibilities of what could have been.

On this DVD, those possibilities are realized, even if only for the moment. Recorded during what was meant to be a one-off series of three concerts following a brief reunion at Clapton’s 2007 Crossroads Festival, what becomes apparent is that the same chemistry between these two incredible musicians is not only still there, but that they really ought to to consider a longer term arrangement.

Seriously. These guys belong together.

From the get-go on this DVD, when the opening notes of “Had To Cry Today” kick things off, you can immediately see and hear it. Clapton and Winwood trade off the guitar solos here like it was 1969 all over again.

And it only gets better from there.

Covering Buddy Miles’ “Them Changes” on the eve of the great drummer’s death, Steve Winwood sings this great song as though he was born to do it, and Clapton responds with some of the best guitar he’s played in a good long while.

Clapton and Winwood continue to feed off of each other on Clapton’s “Forever Man,” as well as on the gospel-charged Blind Faith song “Presence Of The Lord.” Both are primarily Clapton staples, but again Winwood belts out his parts as though he was born to sing them.

The musical synergy is by this time undeniable. Eric Clapton has probably played a song like “After Midnight,” for example, so may times he can do a decent job of it in his sleep — remember those Michelob commercials? But it hasn’t sounded this alive in ages.

Towards the end, when Clapton and Winwood get into covering Jimi Hendrix’s “Little Wing” and “Voodoo Chile,” the sparks really begin to fly. When Winwood intones Hendrix’s “Voodoo Child” in a much bluesier version than the original, with his voice rising in direct relation to the organ swells, Clapton responds with some simply amazing guitar playing. I can honestly say it doesn’t get a whole lot better than this.

Interspersed between the performances, Clapton and Winwood speak candidly about things like the song selection (the bit about their choice to play Buddy Miles’ “Them Changes” — not knowing he had just passed — is particularly telling), and the reunion in general. There is also a second disc which gets into further detail about how this unlikely, but thankful reunion came about.

But the real meat here lies in the performance itself. Clapton and Winwood are taking this show out on the road this summer. Hopefully this will lead to a more permanent collaboration. In the meantime, see it if you can. And if you can’t, get this DVD.

Now.

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About Glen Boyd

Glen Boyd is the author of Neil Young FAQ, released in May 2012 by Backbeat Books/Hal Leonard Publishing. He is a former BC Music Editor and current contributor, whose work has also appeared in SPIN, The Rocket, The Source and other publications. You can read more of Glen's work at The Rockologist, and at the official Neil Young FAQ site. Follow Glen on Twitter and on Facebook.
  • Paul Roy

    Great review Glen. I just got the DVD in the mail yesterday and haven’t had a chance to watch it yet. I also have tickets to see them when they play D.C. next month. I am debating whether or not I should hold off on watching the DVD until after the concert so as not to diffuse the anticipation.

  • Alex

    Absolutely agree.
    I saw “Blind Faith” in Hyde Park and they didn’t quite live up to expectations. As Clapton has said, they were a Jam Band.
    In fact, Winwood and Clapton played together sometime before this on an album called “What’s Shakin'”.
    As the two most talented products of the British Blues boom, they were always destined to play together. Their performances at MSG prove it.
    Winwood’s voice is actually better now than it ever was. Clapton, still hasn’t lost his touch and is the last man standing as far as electric blues guitar.
    “Voodoo Chile” shows them at their absolute best, elaborating a blues progression into something aching and endlessly evocative.

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

    Thanks guys. I so wish this tour was playing Seattle, but this DVD is a great little consolation prize. Thanks for the comments.

    -Glen

  • steve

    What kind of shoes was clapton wearing on the DVD?

  • Kevin Dauphinee

    Just about to slip in this DVD. Was also present at HIC for Blind Faith while a Navy man at Pearl. Thanks for the memories. Now the DVD.