Denver Post: Nov 10, 1997, concert

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Steve Winwood doesn't look much like a refugee from the '60s - and he doesn't sound like one, either.

For the former, he can thank the fact that he started early. Thirty years ago, as a teenager, he was making hits (like "Gimme Some Lovin' '' and "I'm a Man'') with the Spencer Davis Group. By age 19, he was already in his second band, the legendary Traffic.

The Winwood who performed Monday night at the Paramount Theatre was a boyish, trim 49, vigorous despite reports of recent illness. As for his sound, Winwood has never been content to endlessly recycle his past successes. His career marks continual evolution, from blues-rock to psychedelia to jazz-rock to top-40 pop to R&B. And while Monday's 2 1/2 -hour show was heavy with hits from the past, Winwood made a strong case for his most recent material from his poorly received album "Junction Seven'' (Virgin). The result was a well-balanced career retrospective.

Backed by a supple nine-piece band that featured sax, trumpet, two percussionists and a pair of backup singers, Winwood brought considerable power and passion to much of the show, and his high, dancing voice was as intoxicating as always. There was a pleasing Latin feel to many of the arrangements, particularly as the show progressed. Winwood spent much of the show behind a Hammond organ or a piano, but he also took a few turns on guitar, firing off some unflashy but solid lead runs. He opened by staking out his turf as a pop hitmaker, rapidly running through some of his biggest tunes, including "I'm a Man,'' "Roll With It'' and "While You See a Chance'' (respectively, a No. 10, No. 7 and No. 1 on the singles charts). These fine songs are always welcome, and Winwood & Co. played arrangements that were mostly faithful to the originals, but this part of the show seemed too reserved. Winwood turned things up an emotional notch when he dived into the new album, offering the slow-burning "Angel of Mercy,'' the hard-rocking "Spy in the House of Love,'' the salsa-steeped "Back to My Baby'' and the Marvin Gaye-influenced "Plenty Lovin'.'' The new tunes were hook-y enough to have been hits during Winwood's commercial peak a decade ago, and they kept the audience happy.

But the show's best period was its final third, where Winwood let his fine band stretch on better-known tunes. The Blind Faith classic "Can't Find My Way Home'' let Winwood shine on guitar, but his voice slipped into falsetto more than it used to. An extended version of Traffic's "Low Spark of High Heeled Boys'' was the show's best moment. Winwood replaced the annoying synth-organ solo of the original with a tasteful, jazzy piano run, and the song concluded with a sultry muted trumpet solo. A stretched-out version of the Traffic instrumental "Glad'' plugged into the Memphis R&B sound with plenty of horn muscle, then slid into a fiery Cuban-style percussion rumble. And Winwood dove into funk with a cover of Sly and the Family Stone's "Family Affair'' and "Just Wanna Have Some Fun,'' before closing the main set with "Higher Love.'' The encore featured a smooth, emotional take on "Back in the High Life'' with Winwood on mandolin, and a stomping version of "Gimme Good Lovin' '' brought the performance back to its '60s starting point.

If Winwood can find a way to reinvest his studio work with as much heart as he showed in concert Monday, his solo career will have many more years to run.

-- Mark Hardin

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Page created April 15, 1998.
Last updated April 15, 1998.
© 1997 by the author; reproduce only for non-commercial purposes and with full attribution.