|Times-Union: Oct 18, 1997, concert|
Schenectady: The biggest problem that British rocker Steve Winwood has faced in recent years is his own glorious past.
His work with the Traffic was so adventurous and ground-breaking that his solo efforts have seemed bland by comparison. It's not so obvious on his albums, which are consistently fine efforts, but when it came time for his concerts, where he was forced to mix up his repertoire and put his solo work in the spotlight sided-by-side with his classics from the Traffic era, his new material suffered badly.
A few years back, Winwood tried to sidestep the problem by conjuring up a Traffic reunion, but the reconstituted combo wasn't quite up to snuff.
Surprisingly enough, however, that was not the case when Winwood brought his latest tour to Proctor's Theatre on Saturday night. Part of the reason was that Winwood's latest solo album, ``Junction Seven,'' finds him reaching back to his rhythm 'n' blues roots for inspiration. Another reason for the current show's success was a wailin' seven-piece band (plus two backup singers) that churned through the tunes old and new with vigor and vitality.
The band eased into the night with a swirling cosmic jazz introduction that slammed into the funk-fueled ``I'm a Man,'' from Winwood's days with the Spencer Davis Group. From there, they tackled some of Winwood's best solo material like ``Roll With It'' and ``While You See a Chance.''
Then Winwood took a big gamble, stacking up five songs in a row from ``Junction Seven.'' The album isn't anywhere near being a best-seller, and chances are that precious few members of the audience came to hear those songs. But Winwood didn't lose the crowd or his momentum as he steamrolled through such funk-flavored selections as ``Angel of Mercy,'' ``Spy in the House of Love'' and ``Let Your Love Come Down'' (the latter featuring one of Winwood's most stinging solos of the night).
The ever-youthful-looking Winwood loosened things up even more with the new ``Gotta Get Back to My Baby,'' an infectious Afro-Caribbean romp that had the audience clapping along enthusiastically.
Not surprisingly, the biggest spark of the night was the old Traffic material, especially ``Low Spark of High-Heeled Boys'' (with a magnificent muted trumpet solo that brought the song right up to date with today's ambient sounds) and the roaring instrumental ``Glad'' (with a full-force percussion duel that underscored the Latin roots of the song).
But it wasn't just the Traffic songs that clicked. The show-closing ``Higher Love'' got the decidedly older crowd out of their seats, and by the time the final encore of ``Gimme Some Lovin' '' rolled around, they were boogiein' in the aisles.
Most of the night -- including an acoustic shuffle through Blind Faith's ``Can't Find My Way Home'' and a Celtic-tinged treatment of ``Back in the High Life Again'' -- was just fine, however. In fact, when Winwood sang, ``The finer things keep shining through,'' he could very well have been singing about his own impressive performance.
-- Greg Haymes, Staff writer
Copyright 1997, Times Union, Albany, N.Y.
Page created October 22, 1997.
Last updated October 22, 1997.
© 1997 by the author; reproduce only for non-commercial purposes and with full attribution.