Winwood back in the spotlight again

A review of Steve Winwood at the Berklee Performance Center on May 8, 2008

, Managing Editor

Steve Winwood was able to draw an almost capacity crowd at the Berklee Performance Center on Thursday night despite going head to head with Kevin Garnett and the Celtic’s playoff run. Those who made it out got a chance to witness one of rock’s long lasting stars playing near the top of his game.

Winwood’s show was in celebration of the Honorary Doctorate in Music he received from the school on Saturday. The prestigious award has been bestowed on past recipients such as Billy Joel, Herbie Hancock, and Steven Tyler, and came just days before Winwood’s 60th birthday. However, 60 years old seems young for a man who has experienced so much and whose career has been so lengthy. Thursday night Winwood played a mix of tunes from all 40+ years of his career.

Winwood took the stage around 8 p.m. after being introduced by Berklee’s president, Roger Brown, who said that his school was looking to get "Back in the high life again" (I think everyone saw that one coming). Winwood played a pleasing two-hour set that was defined by outstanding improvisation from each member of the band. Winwood is well known for his collaborations with artists such as Eric Clapton and his performance displayed his jamming nature, as many of his songs featured extended solos performed on several instruments including organ, saxophone and congas. The impressive musicianship of Winwood and his band members would lead the audience to shower the band in several standing ovations throughout the set.

Winwood opened the show with "Secrets" from his new album Nine Lives, featuring a flute solo that would wet the lips of Ron Burgandy. Winwood omitted hits such as "Higher Love", "Roll With It", and "Finer Things" from the performance. Instead the set was heavy on new material, including "We’re All Looking", "Fly", "At Times We Do Forget", "Raging Sea", and his newest single, "Dirty City", all off his latest album. Winwood ended up playing almost every song off of Nine Lives, and the new songs showed off a bit of his musical range as "Fly" had a smooth, jazzy sound while "Dirty City" raised the energy level with a building chorus and distorted guitar, bringing the crowd to it’s feet after Winwood’s heavy guitar solo.

While the new material was well received, the crowd connected most with old hits such as "Can’t Find My Way Home", "Back in the High Life Again", and a slowed-down version of Eric Clapton’s "Crossroads". The highlight of the evening came towards the middle of Winwood’s set when the band performed an extended take on the Traffic song, "Light Up or Leave Me Alone", which stirred the audience with organ, sax, guitar, and drum solos, with a hint of cowbell in the mix. Winwood had the crowd singing and clapping along when he closed with his classic hit, "Gimme Some Lovin", leaving the crowd on it’s feet as they made their best attempt in a failing effort to push for an encore.

The outstanding reception to Winwood’s set of largely new material showed that after more than 40 years in the business he still has the ability to write enjoyable music. Thursday at the Berklee Performance Center Winwood proved why he is back in the spotlight again.

For those of you who missed him at this smaller, more intimate show, you can try to catch him at Tweeter or the Garden when he comes to town with Tom Petty next month.

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