The general thought is that after a fantastic concert the crowd should be left speechless and as they file out of the arena where the artists performed an awe-struck feeling should be washed over there faces. I disagree. After a great concert the crowd should be extra garrulous, longing to talk with anyone about what they just heard over the allotted concert time. The crowd outside the Izod center in New Jersey after Eric Clapton and Steve Winwood teamed up for the first stop of the fourteen date tour was particularly chatty and all smiles as they walked away from the arena after a true show of a lifetime.
Outside of the arena the initial conversation among fans was about the set-list. Winwood and Clapton did not simply take their set-list from their historical Madison Square Garden shows and copy it, but, they re-arranged it and twisted it to fit a perfect night one of the fourteen date tour. They successfully paid homage to Blind Faith’s one album playing several songs from those days when Steve Winwood was practicing in Eric Clapton’s basement in Clapton’s home in Surrey, England. They covered both Winwood and Clapton’s illustrious solo history with selections off the back wall of both of their lengthy recording careers. They really played it all with a few surprises even thrown in which sent the crowd into immediate frenzy. So, without further ado, the set list.
The night started with the noticeable riff of “Had to Cry Today,” which shot the crowd to their feet as everyone imitated the guitar playing of both Clapton and Winwood. Winwood shouted out the lyrics with a wide grin as the band consisting of rhythm masters Willie Weeks on bass guitar and Abe Laboriel Jr. on drums, legendary keyboardist Chris Stainton, and skilled back-up vocalists Michelle John and Sharon White, worked proficiently through the first song. After the last note of “Had to Cry Today,” the band took a deep breath and with painted smiles on their faces moved to track two of the twenty two track set list. A successful “Low Down,” which was also performed #2 on the MSG dates, was followed by the first switch from the MSG concerts. J.J. Cale’s slowed down original version of “After Midnight,” was performed by the skilled band and this led the way to some amazingly efficient soloing by Eric Clapton. “Sleeping in the Ground,” from the Blind Faith days, was followed by an emotional version of “Presence of Lord,” which experimented with delicate vocal interplays with Clapton and Winwood which gave the song its extra kick and transported listeners back to the golden days forty years ago. A few blues tracks followed, “Glad,” which was performed during the MSG dates, “Well Alright,” back from the Blind Faith days, and a surprising appearance of the always classic “Tough Luck Blues,” originally by Big Maceo.
The night continued with performances of Clapton’s classic, “Tell the Truth,” which was done quite well, “Pearly Queen,” and “No Face, No Name, No Number.” “Forever Man,” which appeared as song three during the MSG concerts made its tour debut in the twelve spot and closed out an incredible opening set. Winwood and Clapton performed a rocking version of “Forever Man,” which was significantly helped by the voices of Michelle John and Sharon White. Both were invaluable to the shows sound for wherever vocals may have lacked at Madison Square Garden they were replaced, with strength, here in the Izod Center.
To begin the greatest sit down I have ever heard at a concert, Steve Winwood performed a cover of “Georgia on My Mind,” which was sultry as ever and the emotion that was emitted with simply him and his piano and voice was unmatchable. “Driftin,” came next and as my friend Josh mentioned after the show, the crowd was even starting to get into it shouting “you play it,” during the bluesy song. Not only was the band having a good time, but also the fans were feeling it. An amazing version of “Nobody Knows You When you’re Down and Out,” followed “Driftin,” and Clapton and Winwood, both on the guitar, put as much feeling into the song as they could.
Then something weird happened. Clapton started fooling around with the guitar and came dangerously close to the chords of “Layla,” on his Martin acoustic. So close that he played the song, sending the crowd into an uproarious “YES,” and my friend into a craze which almost took off my neck. Acoustic “Layla” was something remarkable. The feeling Clapton put into the guitar mixed with a wonderful ending solo by Winwood on his acoustic, mixed with the fan sing-a-long made for one amazing song. And, how to finish off the acoustic sit down set. Well, “Can’t Find My Way Home,” of course. Winwood still sings beautifully and his wonderful voice was expressed in the lyric and music of my favorite Blind Faith classic.
As the sit down set came to a close and the crowd recovered from what they just heard Clapton and Winwood played “Split Decision,” and prepared the crowd for the epic adventure of “Little Wing,” and “Voodoo Chile,” which came next, back to back, and absolutely blew away the crowd. Describing them as powerful performances is an insult. The combination of the rising, emotional solos in “Little Wing,” and the heavy drums, belting voice, and guitar precision in “Voodoo Chile,” was almost too much to handle. Thankfully, next on the list was “Cocaine,” which only provided the crowd with a keyboard bashing solo by Chris Stainton which stood out in the song. The band then exited the stage and after a rousing, long lasting, applause came back to perform “Dear Mr. Fantasy,” which was incredible in its own right and just left the New Jersey crowd longing for more music.
A must see concert indeed. A rare set-list combination too good to miss. And, best of all, the faces of Clapton and Winwood were priceless. Fans outside the Izod center made sure to mention that this was the youngest they have seen Clapton look in years. Why? He was having fun jamming with his old buddy and a great and intimate band. The band left the stage laughing with each other and saluting the crowd who cheered wildly for them on this tour debut. The biggest story of the night may not be the music or the band, but, the fact that Eric Clapton and Steve Winwood have traveled back in time and have gained the youth and musical prowess of years past. Well, who am I kidding, the biggest story of the night was that I heard acoustic “Layla.” I will sleep well tonight my friends. Good Night and to some viewers Good Morning