Memorial Coliseum
Portland, Oregon, 1986

divider bar

Steve Winwood has had a very public growing up. From his early days with the Spencer Davis Group, up through his stint as a leader of Traffic and his successful solo career, we've watched the evolution of his 25 years in the business.

Tuesday night in Memorial Coliseum, before a disappointingly small but enthusiastic crowd, Winwood and his 7-piece band presented 90 minutes of hits, switching back and forth from the old to the new in fine fashion. That the coliseum fairly boomed with the hollow echo of empty seats hardly seemed to matter.

Starting off on grand piano with the instantly recognizable strains of "The Low Spark of High-Heeled Boys", Winwood and company proceeded to run through selections from his latest LP, Back in the High Life. Tentative at first, Winwood strapped on a guitar for the pop urgency of "Take It As It Comes" and moved flawlessly into "Help Me Angel" and the rocking organ rave-up of his latest single, "Freedom Overspill".

Winwood's versatility has never been an issue, and Tuesday night he proved his mettle, switching from organ to synthesizer, guitar and mandolin. The latter created a nice touch on the reflective tune "Slowdown Sundown", replete with orange spotlight focused on the diaphanous hanging screen.

The title track from his 1980 "comeback" album, Arc of a Diver (a somewhat unfair assessment considering he revels in taking his time to do records), and the first hit from the same album, "While You See a Chance", point up Winwood's ability as a pop songwriter: he can deliver the goods in the form of rock, pop, soul and blues with equal proficiency.

Another highlight of the show was the balladic tour de force of "The Finer Things", a swelling celebration of life that had him singing in unabashed glee with his female backup-singer. The gentle ballad "My Love's Leavin'" was a perfect vehicle for Winwood's distinctive keyboard work.

But to understand Winwood's genius, you have to keep returning to the fact that at barely 40 years of age, Steve Winwood has been in the recording and performing business for 25 years. A long time by anyone's standards.

That he can still get excited watching his young guitarist burn through the solo on the rock 'n' roll vibrancy of "Split Decision" or delight in the reminiscent fury of "Gimme Some Lovin'" made his concert like coming home; back in the high life indeed.

-- Stuart Tomlinson, The Oregonian, October 29, 1986

divider bar

Page created October 27, 1998.
Last updated October 27, 1998.
© 1998 by the author; reproduce only for non-commercial purposes and with full attribution.