Last February, Eric Clapton and Steve Winwood played three sold-out concerts at Madison Square Garden. It was the first time they had played specifically billed together since their successful, but doomed-from-the-start Blind Faith project in 1969.
They had performed together in early 2007 at an English festival, Clapton joining Winwood’s touring band, and later that summer at Clapton’s Crossroads Festival in Chicago. Their set, which closed the event, had Winwood this time playing with Clapton’s band. It’s all documented on the DVD of the festival, and it’s a spectacular performance by both.
I was a little surprised and very pleased that the MSG shows sold out so quickly. I would think because of Clapton’s name, even though I’m a bigger Winwood fan. Still, I’ve liked and listened to both over the years. It was a big boost for Winwood who, although he has enjoyed great success at various times in his career with the Spencer Davis Group, Traffic and later as a Grammy-winning solo artist, has always flown a little under the radar of the general public. This despite a creative, influential and lasting catalogue that stands up to any of the great ’60s artists.
The concerts gave Winwood’s latest album Nine Lives, released last spring, a deserved boost as it turned out to be his most successful in years, debuting in the Billboard Top 10. But since his return to continual touring in 2003, Winwood had already released one of his best albums in About Time (2003) and played live with an exceptional band that has included rotating chairs on drums, percussion and tenor sax, along with gifted Brazilian guitarist Jose Neto, whose latest album Winwood produced.
It was announced recently Clapton and Winwood will tour 14 cities this year and a DVD and CD will be released from the MSG shows. Unfortunately for us in the Northeast, New Jersey is the closet they are coming. No Boston, nothing in Hartford or one of the casinos. And although it’s been noted ticket prices are varying according to venue, they are expected to be quite pricey.
I’ve seen Winwood’s band six times since 2003, ranging from opening for the Grateful Dead at the Meadows to playing the tiny Bowery Ballroom in New York for two long sets to a memorable outdoor set at the Ives Center in Danbury on the campus of Western Connecticut State. And I strongly recommend seeing the Clapton-Winwood show.
But I lament it being at one of these mega-arenas and I won’t be investing in it this time. It’s too difficult to get good seats at these places, too expensive and too far to travel. Yeah, say it, I’m getting older. But I don’t think it’s just that. I just don’t care for the mega-arena experience.
In a previous post, I mentioned seeing the original Blind Faith in their second American concert at Kennedy Stadium in Bridgeport of all places. That was a post on Delaney Bramlett’s passing and told of how anyone could see Clapton was so into Delaney & Bonnie & Friends, the concert’s opening act, it was only a matter of time before Blind Faith was history. And that’s what happened. Blind Faith, despite recording a lasting and revered album with some bonafide standards such as Can’t Find My Way Home and Presence Of The Lord, was doomed because of the superhype employed by manager Robert Stigwood and an exhausting and unsatisfying touring scheme with which the band had to cope. Remember, Clapton wanted to be in the Band at this point in his career and make music something akin to the Bearsville quintet. Blind Faith delivered on the music but they were rushed out the door to make big live bucks too quickly.
I wrote of my remembrances of that concert for a Winwood site several years ago. I’ve found the note and posted it here. By the way, the story behind the canceled Newport gig was a lost item and omitted from several books that included touring information. I helped correct this with the help of a couple of webmasters who have restored it to history. Here it is:
Blind Faith was scheduled to debut in the U.S. in Newport, not at the
festival but a special concert. In fact, we bought tickets to the show and were
quite excited to have third-row seats at Fort Adams State Park, where the Jazz
Festival was held for years. However, about a week before the show, it was
canceled. The promoters backed out because of problems they had with prior
rock acts there. Actually problems with fans destroying property. So, Madison
Square Garden became the debut. What a place to open the tour. The band was
doomed from the start with these type of management decisions. Luckily for us,
another show was added in Bridgeport, Connecticut, not far from where we
were at the time.
In fact, I have a little story. The promoter of the show, Ben Segal,
was the father of a drummer I was working with, Beau. We got into the show
free and stood backstage or what would pass for backstage at the outdoor
football field, a roped-off area near a portable stage. We went out front during
their set because the sound was obviously better there. There were no seats on
the infield. They sounded very good and played much the same set as the
European concerts. Though I was disappointed that Winwood played
keyboards, not guitar, on “Had To Cry Today.”
It was interesting to note that when Clapton arrived he stood to the
side of the stage, grooving on Delaney & Bonnie. It was just the second
concert! Also, Dave Mason was the guitarist for D&B, rather a coincidence.
One last thing, Janis Joplin showed up, actually looking quite well. I wound
up standing in a group of people with her. She was quite funny and was
continually asking where Clapton was. Heady times.