February 27, 2008


Finding Their Way Home, or at Least to the Garden (JON PARELES, 2/27/08, NY Times)

Monday’s set started with “Had to Cry Today,” which declares in its first words, “It’s already written that today will be one to remember.” Yet Mr. Clapton and Mr. Winwood carried themselves modestly, without bravado: just a couple of musicians doing their job.

They were looking for the mysterious spark that transforms capable, proficient blues or rock into something startling and exalted. It wasn’t always there. Old blues songs still came across as the work of skilled, dutiful students, chugging steadily through “Crossroads” or easing back for Mr. Clapton’s near-homages to B. B. King, Albert King and Buddy Guy in “Double Trouble.”

Mr. Clapton and Mr. Winwood were serious about songs like “Sleeping in the Ground,” which Blind Faith performed in 1969, with raspy vocals, splashy barrelhouse piano from Mr. Winwood and a stinging, Chicago-style lead from Mr. Clapton. But it was musicianship, not alchemy.

Fitfully, they found it: in a slow, aching version of “Georgia on My Mind” by Mr. Winwood alone at a Hammond organ; in Mr. Clapton’s Blind Faith song, “Presence of the Lord,” with two very different vocal approaches from Mr. Clapton and Mr Winwood; in the Traffic instrumental “Glad” topped by a frenetic raga-tinged solo from Mr. Clapton; and in Traffic’s “Dear Mr. Fantasy,” which built to a searing guitar solo by Mr. Winwood. If anything, it was Mr. Winwood’s night; his Blind Faith song “Can’t Find My Way Home” held both anguish and camaraderie as he and Mr. Clapton let their guitar picking entwine.

By a strange coincidence, they feature in two very similar stories of my concert-going. Went to the Garden once because I really wanted to see Robert Cray, who was opening for Clapton. I expected the blues from the former and a lifeless imitation from the latter, but Cray was wildly over-produced and didn't vary one lick from his album, while Clapton was excellent. Around the same time I went to the Garden State Arts Center to see a Winwood show with Jimmy Cliff and, given that Mr. Winwood had played every instrument on his last album, half expected him to accompany canned music. Instead he had a good backup band and was in peak form while Cliff was deadly dull.

Posted by Orrin Judd at February 27, 2008 8:26 AM
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