BY DANIEL GLUSKOTER
Over a half century since first arriving on the music scene as the lead vocalist for The Spencer Davis Group at the tender young age of 15 in 1963, followed by memberships in two of Rock’s first supergroups and a prolific solo career, Steve Winwood arrived in the Bay Area for a trio of shows this week including an exquisite performance at The Fox in Oakland on Wednesday evening.
Winwood, 69, was a 2004 inductee into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame with Traffic, the British band that often seamlessly blended elements of blues, soul and jazz into the same song. In 1969 he took a break from the band to form Blind Faith, the supergroup that he shared with Eric Clapton and Ginger Baker which quickly reached the top of the charts on both sides of the Atlantic with their sole eponymous album. Ultimately he launched his solo
career in 1977.
Beginning the show on this night after a brief but well-received set from his daughter Lilly by taking a seat at his organ on stage right, Winwood opened with Spencer Davis “I’m A Man” and a pair of lesser known but enjoyable tracks from his 2008 solo album “Nine Lives.”
While his current tour has featured only 13 total tracks in the setlist on most nights, Winwood and his band’s masterful musicianship was on display throughout the 100 minute presentation that would take the near sold out audience on a trip that went a long way towards providing an overview of one very extraordinary career.
The middle of the show featured “Had to Cry Today” and “Can’t Find My Way Home” from Blind Faith, strongly reinforcing the obvious that Winwood’s vocals have certainly not regressed over the years. Clearly still having fun on stage as opposed to simply going thru the motions, the chemistry amongst him and supporting bandmates Jose Neto on guitar, multi-instrumentalist Paul Booth on sax, flute and keyboards and dual percussionists Richard Bailey and Edson Da Silva was unmistakable.
A trio of Traffic tunes would follow. A jazzy, soulful seven minute interpretation of “The Low Spark of High Heeled Boys” preceded”Empty Pages” from 1970’s “John Barleycorn Must Die” ”highlighted by Booth’s sax solo. The rollicking, funky “Light Up or Leave Me Alone” followed as the crowd was lit up from a powerful spotlight above the stage and Bailey’s equally muscular percussion solo.
The upbeat and catchy “Higher Love,” which unfortunately was the only true hit of the three songs Winwood played from his strong solo catalog, signaled the end of the quartet’s set. Returning to a well-deserved standing ovation, the band launched into the brooding “Dear Mr. Fantasy” from Traffic’s 1967 self-titled debut album before finishing with “Gimme Some Lovin’” which proved to be a perfect bookend to the earliest material of a storied career that also opened the show.
After a pair of shows in the state of Washington, Winwood returns to the Bay Area on Monday, September 11th for a sold out show at the Luther Burbank theater in Santa Rosa before playing the Hollywood Bowl on Wednesday.