Steve Winwood Delights The Space At Westbury, NY 4-20-17

Steve Winwood Delights The Space At Westbury, NY 4-20-17

When thinking of some of the most prolific Rock vocalists over the past five decades, chances are many names come to mind, but let us not forget England’s own Steve Winwood. From his early years with The Spencer Davis Group to his time with Traffic and Blind Faith, Winwood has a mass of experience unlike many others. In addition to working with the likes of Jim Capaldi, Dave Mason, Ginger Baker, and Eric Clapton, just to name a few, Winwood has celebrated quite an impressive solo career over the past forty years. Begun with his self-titled 1977 solo album, Winwood went on to attain one chart-topping record after another, mounting to massive commercial success with 1986’s Back in the High Life. 

Now mostly concentrating on live performances, last releasing a studio album back in 2008 with Nine Lives, Winwood returns to the road in 2017. A spring run of shows that will see him travel across the Southeast and East Coast through May 10th, it all kicked off on Thursday, April 20th, when Winwood came to The Space at Westbury in New York. An honor for the Long Island venue to host the kickoff of Winwood’s tour, the two are not without their history, with Winwood last visiting The Space almost two years to the day back on April 23rd of 2015. That in mind, many familiar faces gathered inside the theater to indulge in Winwood’s rich history and incredibly diverse sound. 

Taking his daughter out on the road with him, Lilly Winwood would act as the opening act for her father, beginning her set just after 7 PM. Raised on music, Lilly has paved her own way, creating her own sound influenced by everything from Americana, to Country, to Rock. Recently releasing her debut EP, Silver Stage, Lilly was ready to showcase the exciting material in front of the eager Long Island crowd. 

Delivering a beautifully haunting nine songs, her set included “London” and her EP’s title track. Channeling the great singer-songwriters of the ’60s and ’70s, she put forth a stirring exposition of melodic, intense music accompanied by only an acoustic guitar. Her songs were expertly crafted and carried a depth one would expect from someone much older than 21. Her lyrics touched on hope, fear, emotion, and love, sounding like a seasoned world traveler. A definite future star in the music world, look out for upcoming tours and full-length album from Lilly scheduled for this coming fall. 

Settling in after a delightful set with Lilly, it came time for Pappa Winwood to take his rightful place in the spotlight. Sharing the stage with other legends in recent years, including Rod Stewart in 2013 and Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers in 2014, it is also exciting to see Winwood do headlining tours as well, assuring a thoughtful collection of tunes from throughout his history. For many, the history Winwood brings with him to the stage act as the soundtrack to their lives, with many songs he has written and recorded holding a special place in their heart.

That thought in mind, Winwood wasted no time as he and his band consisting of José Neto (guitar), Paul Booth (saxophone/flute/organ), Richard Bailey (drums), and Edson da Silva (percussion) launched into the laid back 1986 hit “Back in the High Life Again.” A rolling, melodic lead on keys paved the way for a perfectly crafted Pop song, with a bouncy lead on acoustic guitar, spirited, upbeat vocal breaks, and the evening was on its way. 

From there, Winwood delved back to Traffic’s self-titled 1968 LP, going into the Folk Rock realm with “Pearly Queen.” Over a slinky guitar lead, Winwood punctuated the sound with heavy notes on the organ with alternating solos on guitar and flute respectively with frenetic drumming on the congas. A haunting, fairy-tale sound permeated the track on the flute, while Winwood echoed the sound on the organ during the extended outro. Going back to his earliest foray into professional music, the oft-covered “I’m a Man” got the crowd moving with its propulsive lead on organ, roadhouse ethos, and R&B flavored groove.

The glimpse into the past was only momentary as Winwood took the crowd into the present years with 2008’s “Fly.” From his last proper album, the aforementioned Nine Lives, the gentle, rambling track clocked in at just under eight minutes as it whisked along with a beautiful lead on saxophone along with heartfelt lyrics of hopes both dashed and dreamt of. Doing a complete 180, the foot-stomping Buddy Miles classic “Them Changes” got the crowd moving with a breakneck beat, swirling organ, interjected solos, and spirited vocals moving along at a brisk pace, channeling golden era of “70s Jazz/Funk fusion.

Moving the evening right along, Winwood would soon go into the revered Blind Faith era, starting with “Can’t Find My Way Home.” Here, he deftly laid down the melody on electric guitar while his band kept the pace with a simple, flowing groove. The overall ‘quietness’ of the song allowed Winwood’s still powerful, plaintive, unique voice to take center stage as he and his mates laid down the Classic Rock staple. Next, from the same 1969 self-titled Blind Faith record, “Had to Cry Today” saw the band put penultimate Classic Rock on display with a crushing groove, violent interjections on guitar, and riffing that would not be out of place in a Heavy Metal set. This, coupled with the Country-inflected melody, made for a deep listen on a deep track.

Keeping the classics coming, Traffic’s showcase, spanning well over thirty minutes, allowed everyone to kick back and simply enjoy the music. The first of this portion of the night, “Empty Pages” opened with smashing keyboard work and almost violent drumming. With a brisk pace and unforgettable groove, it has been a staple on Classic Rock radio nearly fifty years now and for just reason. Thereafter, an extended piano solo came before the final verse was punctuated with a funked up outro, which soon spilled into 1971’s “Light Up or Leave Me Alone.” Spanning almost twenty minutes, the jam highlighted Winwood’s uncanny ability to meld multiple styles of music into a sprawling, cohesive number. 

Naturally, the Traffic tunes followed with thunderous applause before Winwood went back again into the commercially successful hit “Higher Love” with his daughter Lilly joining him on stage. A simple, clean, one note piano riff led the charge over subdued, funky drums while the band did not extend the jam, or play any blistering solos, but instead delivered a perfect version of a perfect Pop Rock song to end the main portion of the set.

After a short stage exit, Winwood and band returned for a two song encore, leading off with “Dear Mr. Fantasy.” From Traffic’s 1967 debut album Mr. Fantasy, the slab of classic psychedelia brought a roar from the crowd. With a sanguine opening, hushed drums gave way to the famous riff, the band pushed the song over ten minutes while Winwood jammed throughout, mixing in all the styles of ’60s and ’70s guitar heroes. Implementing both multi-note, blazing solos, as well as plenty of heavy riffing, it was a dazzling display. 

Given little time to catch their breath, the audience was quickly harnessed into show closer “Gimme Some Lovin’,” bringing the show full circle. Joining her father on stage again, Lilly helped move the song along at a feverish pitch. Dripping with blue-eyed Soul, the extended version of the song was helped by the crowd during the chorus, making sure the show finished up on quite a high note.

As alluded to, not many in Rock-n-Roll history have created such a diverse catalog as Winwood. Not only does he play Psychedelic Rock, Pop Rock, Folk, Jazz, Funk, and good old Rock-n-Roll, he also is as good as they come on both keys and guitar. In enough words, Winwood’s live shows are a journey through the history of Classic Rock, touching on all the varying styles and spanning over fifty years, and is not to be missed.

Photos by: Aintellin Photography

Tour Dates:
April 28 Mashantucket, CT Foxwoods
April 29 Salamanca, NY Seneca Allegany
May 1 Washington, DC Warner Theatre
May 2 Richmond, VA Carpenter Theatre
May 5 St. Augstine, FL St. Augustine Ampitheatre
May 6 Orlando, FL Hard Rock Live
May 9 Greenville, SC Peace Center Concert Hall
May 10 Nashville, TN Ryman Auditorium
July 14 Stuttgart, Germany Jazzopen Stuttgart

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Gerard Smith
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