Hollywood, California – Thursday, June 24, 2014

Review By Shawn Perry

Photos by Kimberly Annette ©2014

 

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Steve Winwood Photo by Kimberly Annette ©2014

Seeing Steve Winwood live is like taking a big bite out of rock and roll history. As a teenager, he joined the Spencer Davis Group and penned, sang and played the Hammond B3 on their biggest hits, “Gimme Some Lovin’” and “I’m A Man.” Itching to break out of the pop world, he co-founded Traffic in 1967, and raised the bar on jazz-rock fusion. He left Traffic to join the short-lived Blind Faith with Eric Clapton, only to return to Traffic in the 1970s. By the end of the 70s and into the 80s, he was an A-list solo artist. These days, he can pretty much do whatever the hell he wants. Thankfully for the fans at the Pantages, he came out to play his biggest and brightest.

It would be difficult for anyone to open for an icon like Steve Winwood, but Cris Jacobs showed up unabashedly with an acoustic and proceeded to wow the audience with a unique serving of well-crafted songs and mind-blowing guitar work. He graciously acknowledged the venue — a historic Art Deco movie palace that typically hosts Broadway plays — and the main attraction: “What a dump this place is!” he exclaimed with a grin that earned a few chuckles. “It’s an honor to open for Steve Winwood.” His short set included a spirited run through of “Samson and Delilah,” on which Jacobs sang and played a cigar box guitar exquisitely. He’s definitely someone to keep an eye on!

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Chris Jacobs Photo by Kimberly Annette ©2013

At 9:00, the lights came down and Winwood and his band — drummer Richard Bailey, guitarist Jose Neto, Paul Booth on sax, flute, clarinet and keys and percussionist Edson “Cafe” Da Silva — took their places amidst a mild, respectful reception. I’d read other reviews that moaned about Winwood not playing enough his “hits” from the 80s — not exactly a bad thing, in my view. That isn’t to say the glossy, radio-friendly music he made then didn’t have merit — but compared to his body of work in the 60s and 70s, well…there really is no comparison. Maybe Winwood feels the same because he wasted little time opening the show with a fervent swing at “Rainmaker,” the first of three songs from Traffic’s 1971 album, The Low Spark Of High Heeled Boys, that would be rolled out tonight.

Jose Neto

Jose Neto Photo by Kimberly Annette ©2014

Sparse, jazzy elements would filter in and out of the music all night. How could it not when you consider the caliber of players, all of whom were spotlighted in the extended jams that filled out many of the songs. Even the salsa-infused rhythm gave “I’m A Man” an extra boost, which resulted in Winwood taking his B3 out for a whirl, before handing off the reins to Booth for some superb sax soloing, most definitely in the spirit and flavor of late Traffic reedman Chris Wood.

One of the more extraordinary things about Winwood is how easily he can step out from behind the Hammond B3 organ and strap on a Stratocaster guitar, without missing a cue and opportunity to rip. Anyone who can stand next to Eric Clapton with a guitar and solo effortlessly is no slouch, and Winwood brought it on the Blind Faith classic, “Can’t Find My Way Home,” the first song to get the audience out of their seats. “We’re thankful to be in Los Angeles,” he announced at the song’s conclusion, “playing this vintage music.” Yes, I was definitely at the right show.

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Steve Winwood Photo by Kimberly Annette ©2014

Versions of Traffic’s ‘The Low Spark Of High Heeled Boys” and “Empty Pages” were spread out like open spaces with plenty improvisational possibilities. Jose Neto’s sweeping, flamenco-flavored guitar interludes definitely added an unexpected, zestful layer to the mix. A striking take of Buddy Miles‘ “Changes” (at a Madison Square Garden concert in 2008, Winwood and Eric Clapton played and dedicated this song to Miles, who had died that day) lead to an extended jam of Jim Capaldi’s “Light Up Or Leave Me Alone,” which could have been a tad bit shorter, despite a suave, jaw-dropping drum solo from Bailey, followed by a tasty slice of Silva’s percussion.

The one song Winwood played from the 80s, “Higher Love,” uneventfully ended the set. It may have been weakest few minutes of the night, despite Winwood’s efforts to bring it up to 21st century standards. An encore of “Dear Mr. Fantasy” and “Gimme Some Lovin’” had everyone on their feet, many inching forward for photo and video ops. Winwood was back on guitar for the first one, and he nailed his best solo of the night. He jumped back behind the B3 for what is arguably his best-known song and brought it all to a rousing finish at 10:30. A night of incredible musicianship and classic songs in a world-class theater — this is what it’s all about.

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Steve Winwood at The Pantages
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