Ft Worth, TX Star-Telegram:Nov 8, 1998

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Winwood finds his way home and serves a filling feast

For all his talents and history -- his soulful voice, his classic-rock pedigree, his sure touch as a songwriter -- Steve Winwood can be, and has been, deadly dull as a live performer. Not bad -- just flat. Pedestrian, one might say.

Which made last night's show at a far-short-of-capacity Will Rogers Auditorium such a pleasant surprise.

Winwood, 49 and still looking boyish and sounding wonderfully soulful on vocals, organ, piano and guitar, cranked his back catalog up a notch or three and delivered what was easily the best of the four solo performances I've seen him give since he toured behind his blockbuster 1986 CD `Back in the High Life.'

As a master of ceremonies, Winwood is still a bit low-key, but that matters less in a small hall like Will Rogers as opposed to the sheds he worked in the late '80s and early '90s. And it actually worked to his advantage; Winwood became known as a performer and songwriter, not a personality, and now that his days as a crafter of huge pop/rock hits are on the wane, he's decided to go back to the prime jazz-and-soul-soaked pop of his salad days with Spencer Davis and Traffic.

Thus the show began with Winwood seated behind the organ, belting out the mid-1960s Davis hit `I'm A Man' and then moving on to several of his more R&B-flavored solo hits, `Roll With It, Freedom Overspill' and `While You See A Chance,' and playing the instrument with deft economy.

Later in the set he turned in a solid version of Blind Faith's `Can't Find My Way Home.' He also returned to his Traffic days with a long, very jazzy take on the FM classic `The Low Spark of High Heeled Boys' and a romp through the 1970 instrumental `Glad'.

These, of course, were the tunes that the graying/balding mainly 40-and-over crowd came to hear -- and not the five songs he played from this year's anemic (and anemic-selling) `Junction Seven' CD. Luckily for us, he played them all in one big chunk -- which gave the dozens of people who got up at the first sound of something unfamiliar all the more time to hit the bathroom and the beer line.

And, save the Latin-flavored `Got To Get Back to My Baby,' those who left missed little. But it's a measure of just how fine a form Winwood is in these days that he could make these colorless, bland songs sound `almost' interesting -- and far more palatable than on the CD.

-- Dave Ferman

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Last updated April 15, 1998.
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