Steve Winwood – the Space at Westbury – April 23, 2015
“He’s still got it!” You hear people say that all the time, but so often it’s nothing more than wishful thinking or wistful nostalgia. But when everyone at the Space at Westbury had that thought last night, it was because it was as true as ever for Steve Winwood. With a groovy organ and an Afrobeat feel from his stellar rhythm section, he opened the show with the Spencer Davis Group hit “I’m a Man.” There’s old school and there’s old old school, and the 1967 classic is in the latter category. You have to wonder how many times Winwood has sung the song. Yet, in what would be the prevailing mood of the set, he made it feel as relevant as ever, making it sound like it was the best version ever.
From the opening tune through the end of the encore, the performance was like a long drive on a beautiful night with the radio set to the classic-rock station and every song that comes up is even more of a favorite than the previous one. Winwood described the set list as “predominantly vintage,” and he didn’t hold back on the hits. “Can’t Find My Way Home,” played early on, delighted the sold-out crowd, Winwood’s strong vocals transcending the inevitable sing-along and phone videos to provide a chills-inducing moment. The show’s centerpiece featured a powerful triplet of “The Low Spark of High Heeled Boys,” “Glad” and “Light Up or Leave Me Alone.” “Low Spark” was naturally long with a meaty guitar solo and maybe a touch of irony in the lyric “the man in the suit has just bought a new car with the profits he made on your dreams” sung to a room with at least a couple of guys wearing suits (who may or may not have just gotten new cars). The instrumental “Glad” didn’t show its age at all, still feeling fresh and exploratory with a nice moody outro section centered on the organ, flute and congas. “Light Up” was the big, long rocker of the night with solos abound for everyone—pure, classic, good-as-it-gets rock and roll.
Throughout the show, Winwood elevated the time-tested material: His voice sounding unchanged by the decades, and his excellent organ and guitar playing showing plenty of kick. Winwood’s band was equal to the task, keeping the spirit of nostalgia in the material while bringing new sounds into the mix. The all-killer-no-filler set finished with perhaps the most audience-pleasing song of the night, Winwood’s merely old school ’80s hit “Higher Love,” which had many in the place feeling three decades younger, for sure. And while the whole set had the “big guns” feel of an encore, Winwood did have a couple of rounds left in the chamber after a well-earned ovation from the crowd. He displayed his guitar-rocking skills on “Dear Mr. Fantasy,” with what felt like three distinct show-stopping solos. But before the fuzz faded, Winwood returned to his organ and returned to where it all began—not just the show, but his career altogether—leading the band in a rousing version of “Gimme Some Lovin’,” everyone in the room thinking, “So glad we made it.” —A. Stein | @Neddyo