Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel: Nov 2, 1997, concert

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Steve Winwood Goes Through the Motions

Former Spencer Davis, Traffic and Blind Faith member Steve Winwood brought four decades of pop-rock R&B to the Eagles Club ballroom Saturday night. But the man often remembered for Traffic's "Low Spark of High Heeled Boys" didn't ignite great amounts of passion in the litany of hits that made up most of his show.

Sitting behind an organ -- and looking, in his jeans and black leather jacket, much younger than his 49 years -- Winwood sang and played renditions of hits that were faithful to the past in sound and flavor. He was backed by an eight-piece band that supplied equally accurate beats, rhythms and horn solos. To the left were a pair of backing vocalists who also served as dancers. The opening task for this cohesive sound was "I'm a Man," which Winwood first blared while a teenager in the Spencer Davis Group.

This all made for a professional show, but something was absent.

Like many '60's rock veterans still on the road, Winwood today seems a bit torn by his joint mission as both a reproducer of past hits -- an ever-growing melody museum, which his fans would only naturally expect -- and a contemporary artist who has to muster enough passion to write new songs and, ideally, relate to them.

That tension defined Saturday's show: oldie rock classics such as "Spark," "Glad" and "Roll With It" all came off vocally straight-ahead, if musically over-arranged. Winwood sang all the readily familiar verses in a professional if detached manner. And the audience, by way of its arena rock-bred yelps and whistles, seemed to appreciate the effort in a casual and perfunctory way. The concert-goers' main goal seemed to be to recapture a glimpse of their past and its accompanying musical memory -- and Winwood obliged in helping them get there.

Fair enough, but some of that dispassion and sentimentality sustained to the part of the show where Winwood played songs from his new album, "Junction Seven." Typical was "Angel of Mercy," an uninspired bit of bluesy romance that came with Caribbean-lite drums and percussion.

-- Nick Carter

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Page created November 6, 1997.
Last updated November 6, 1997.
© 1997 by the author; reproduce only for non-commercial purposes and with full attribution.