Saturday, December 5, 2009


For decades, Eric Clapton never really had to look back that much. He is so enduringly popular as a solo artist, that he hasn't had to reunite with anyone. In 2003, he joined John Mayall onstage for the latter's 70th birthday concert (you can hear the amazing results on John Mayall & The Bluesbreakers and Friends 70th Birthday Concert). In 2005 he had his "hell freezes over" moment and reunited with Cream for four nights at the Royal Albert Hall (followed a few months later by three nights at Madison Square Garden). Soon after that, he kind of made peace with the ghosts of Derek & The Dominoes -- he hired Derek Trucks of The Allman Brothers Band (he was named after the group) for his backing band, and performed Dominoes songs that he hadn't done in decades. (I thought it would have been nice if he included Dominoes keyboardist/singer Bobby Whitlock, but oh well). Then, in 2008, he revisited Blind Faith -- sort of -- with singer/keyboardist/guitarist Steve Winwood with a couple of shows at Madison Square Garden. (I say "sort of," because they declined to invite drummer Ginger Baker -- whom Clapton dealt with in the Cream reunion.)

Meanwhile, Winwood, who had done a few Traffic reunions over the years, is now unable to reunite with that band, as drummer/singer Jim Capaldi passed away a few years ago, and Winwood and Traffic guitarist/singer Dave Mason hate each other. Short of rejoining The Spencer Davis Group, Blind Faith is the only band he can revisit with a member he can deal with. But a funny thing happened a few years back: after years of making boring adult contemporary albums (much like Clapton's), Winwood got his mojo back with 2003's very Traffic-like About Time. (Unfortunately, he sort of lost it again on last year's Nine Lives, which came out at around the time of these shows.)

So, anyway, this show could have been a really schmaltzy affair done as a money grab by two legends who have been mostly coasting for decades. But there are some inspired moments here - even on some of thier '80s hits: Winwood's "Split Decision" (which I think originally featured Joe Walsh on guitar) and Clapton's "Forever Man" (sung as a duet) are both pretty great.

But the best moments, unsurprisingly, are when they revisit Blind Faith - you can't really call it a "catalog," as they only had one album. Opening with the track that kicked off their self-titled album from 1969, "Had To Cry Today," you can hear the "unfinished business" that Clapton mentioned when they originally announced the duo shows. "Presence Of The Lord," also sung as a duet (on the album, Winwood did all the vocals, with Clapton sticking to guitar) is pretty moving, considering all the things he's been through over the decades. But Sam Myers' "Sleeping In The Ground," Buddy Holly's "Well All Right" and of course their greatest song, "Can't Find My Way Back Home"... there's not a bad moment there. Clapton avoids Cream, playing mostly stuff from his solo repertoire, but also rocks Derek's "Tell The Truth." When they cover Winwood's Traffic stuff, it's also great, especially "Mr. Fantasy." And I have to mention the trio of Jimi Hendrix covers - "Little Wing," "Voodoo Chile" and "Them Changes" (the latter was done by Jimi's Band Of Gypsys, and was actually written and sung by drummer Buddy Miles - who passed away just a few days after this Clapton/Winwood performance was recorded). I was pretty cynical about these shows: in fact, I didn't even try to go because the pricing was aimed at what Lennon referred to as the "rattle your jewelry" crowd. I still maintain that they charge too much for these shows, but this live album proves that there is still some inspiration in Clapton and Winwood. And now I'm thinking twice about ignoring the Clapton/Jeff Beck shows.

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