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Steve Winwood – Soundstage, Live In Concert (DVD Review)

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As I was marveling at how great Steve Winwood looked for a man who surely must be in his mid-60′s, considering that he was fronting The Spencer Davis Group way back in 1963, I quickly remembered that he was only 15 years old at the time. Talk about your musical prodigies. That would make him only 55 at the time of this performance. Although he is probably past his prime by now, his voice sounds better than ever and his Hammond B3 playing remains unparalleled.

Soundstage was a live performance recorded at the PBS Soundstage in Chicago on October 13, 2003 and originally aired on PBS television in September 2005. Winwood was touring in support of his new album About Time, which is much more reminiscent of the classic Traffic sound, with some Latin elements thrown in, than the slick, pop-R&B of his previous few solo outings. Four of the new songs are included here as well as some Traffic, Blind Faith, and earlier solo material. Although three bonus songs are added, which didn’t appear on the eight-song PBS broadcast, I was frustrated to find out that Winwood actually played 20 songs during this Soundstage performance. Missing on this DVD are such classics as "Pearly Queen", "Higher Love", "The Low Spark of High Heeled Boys", and "Gimme Some Lovin", which were all played at the show. So why the hell not include the entire set? Unfortunately this is an all too common occurrence that doesn’t make much sense.

What little we do get is some pretty great stuff. The program starts with a breezy pop version of the Blind Faith classic "Can’t Find My Way Home", with Winwood playing a Fender Telecaster processed to sound like an acoustic. His vocals have never sounded better on this song. If you are a fan of Traffic‘s legendary 1970 album John Barleycorn Must Die, then you will especially appreciate this set because three of the next four songs are from it. Mixed among them is a new song from About Time called "Bully", which features a killer wah-drenched guitar solo from Jose Neto. Along with Neto, Winwood surrounds himself with a first-rate band that includes Walfredo Reyes Jr. on the drums, Randall Bramblett on sax and flute, and Edson A. DaSilva on percussion. Winwood is an inspiration to watch on the Hammond B3, as he effortlessly plays two keyboards, taps away on some foot pedals, and flaunts his distinctly smooth vocals.

I found the setlist to be a little disappointing overall. Sure there were plenty of great Traffic classics played, but you can find much superior performances of them on The Last Great Traffic Jam DVD. I was hoping to get more of Winwood‘s classic solo material such as "While You See A Chance", "Arc Of A Diver", "Higher Love", and "Roll With It". The set started to wind down as Winwood led a beautiful "Back In The High Life Again" on mandolin. James Taylor‘s harmony vocals were sorely missed here though, and none were provided by any of the other band members. From there, it was all the way back to 1967 for a standout "Dear Mr. Fantasy", with Winwood laying down a few surprisingly ferocious guitar solos. This was the absolute highlight of the show and received a raucous standing ovation from the crowd. Instead of ending things on such a high, they closed the show with a new song "Why Can’t We Live Together", which is actually a cover of the early-70′s soul classic from one-hit-wonder Timmy Thomas. Although a pretty decent performance, it was a huge letdown after the previous couple of songs.

The production quality of this DVD was exceptional in all the important categories. The only problem, other than the abbreviated setlist, is a glitch with the links to the three bonus songs. When you select "Rainmaker", you get "Different Light", and "Different Light" gets you "Walking On", and so forth. The fantastic Dolby Digital 5.1 surround mix made it seem like the band was performing right in my living room. Although the DVD case lists a 4:3 full screen presentation, it was actually high-definition widescreen, which couldn’t have been more clear and sharp. The camera work was exceptional as well, providing a nice variety of camera angles that lingered just the right amount on each shot. Don’t expect any special features with the disk, because there are none.

My main complaint about this Soundstage gig is that it comes across a little sterile at times – like every performance was the third take. Winwood never even addresses the audience and can barely manage to crack a few smiles throughout the performance. The superb musicianship, and great songs mostly overcame this issue though. Winwood should really consider reissuing this DVD to include the entire performance along with some interviews and behind the scenes footage. I’d buy it again.

Set List
Can’t Find My Way Home
Empty Pages
Bully
Glad
Freedom Rider
Back In The High Life Again
Dear Mr. Fantasy
Why Can’t We Live Together

Bonus Tracks
Rainmaker
Different Light
Walking On

Performance 8/10
Production 9/10

Read all of my DVD concert reviews at Roy’s Reviews

About Paul Roy

  • Eric Olsen

    super job as always Paul, Winwood is still evergreen. He was just given the BMI lifetime Icon award in London this evening.