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Story and photos by Andy ArgyrakisWith so many bands under his belt like Spencer Davis Group, Traffic and Blind Faith, not to mention a monstrously successful solo career, it must be an absolute bear for Steve Winwood to whittle down a set list. These days, the singer/songwriter/piano player/guitarist is mostly hearkening back to his distant past (influenced by his recent reunion tour with longtime collaborator Eric Clapton), which basically finds the part time pop star tapping into his classic rock, blues and occasionally jazzy roots.
At a packed Chicago Theatre, the English luminary started off at the very beginning of his career with Spencer Davis Group's "I'm a Man" transforming from a simple golden oldie to a snarling jam session. That rearranged version seemed to set the pace for the 100-minute evening, which often featured extended explorations through past nuggets, crossed with tunes off his latest like-minded solo album Nine Lives (Columbia).
The slowly percolating jazz/blues blend of "Fly" might have been newer, but it served as a throwback to the psychedelic side of the '70s, while fellow current cut "At Times We Do Forget" exploded with rich electric organ blasts and rippling percussion. In keeping with the night's unpredictable flow, Blind Faith's "Can't Find My Way Home" surged with a hippie glow and Winwood's youthful vocal presentation, which was even more evident throughout range-testing Traffic classics like "Light Up Or Leave Me Alone" and "Dear Mr. Fantasy."
If there was any complaint to be had, it was the many omissions from his most commercially successful period. Granted, the always sweet sounding "Higher Love" brought down the house with a riveting tribal reworking, but it marked the only hint of his '80s apex. ("The Finer Things," "Valerie," "Back In the High Life Again," "When You See a Chance" and "Roll With it" were just a few of the many that were inexplicably ignored).
Even with so many notable exclusions, Winwood and his nimble four piece band didn't disappoint, thanks to their free-flowing vibes through the veteran's extensive annals. Perhaps it was only fitting that the time capsule was flanked by fellow Spencer Davis Group staple "Gimme Some Lovin,'" a jovial jam that found the 64-year-old star beaming like a fresh-faced kid who's still just as excited about performing as he was when the journey began well over 40 years ago.
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