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Eric Clapton and Steve Winwood: Live From Madison Square Garden

Four Stars
Warner Music/EMI

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Neha Sharma Sep 27, 2009
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The erstwhile blues-rock supergroup Blind Faith was the intended refuge of two stellar musicians who were disenchanted with the commercial turn their music was taking and were fleeing the musical straitjacketing imposed on them by the industry. Improvisational maestro and guitar virtuoso Eric Clapton and exemplary singer-songwriter Steve Winwood walked out of lucrative projects Cream and Traffic, respectively, to form Blind Faith in 1968, also taking on Cream drummer Ginger Baker and Family bassist Rick Grech. Ironically, commercial success and adulation followed the quartet much as it did with Cream bringing with them the ghosts of the very past they wished to escape. The pressure got to Clapton especially, which led to the dissolution of Blind Faith just a year after its conceptualisation. But the band’s brief stint left an indelible mark on music history and a legion of wistful fans. The sensibilities and understanding that brought Clapton and Winwood together in the first place saw their friendship through the decades, and they acknowledged their great synergy July 2007 by reuniting for the Crossroads 2 concert in Chicago. This inspired an exclusive ”˜Clapton and Winwood’ three-day reunion concert at Madison Square Garden in February 2008. The DVD of the concert which released in the US and UK in earlier this year is finally out in India this month.

The DVD features twenty songs culled off the Blind Faith catalogue and their respective repertoires: It’s a very interesting mix which taps into the duo’s exemplary interplay and also salutes their individual standings as musicians. When bringing such superlative talents together on the same stage, there is the always the fear of ego clashes or one performer overshadowing the other, but this concert does not offer fodder for any such inferences. Though Clapton inevitably and unwittingly does outshine Winwood with his sleight of hand on the guitar, for the most part the two guitarists feed off each others, trading licks and solos. The show kicks off with Winwood singing ”˜Had to Cry Today’ and ”˜Them Changes’ which is simply the warm up to the musical extravaganza that follows. It’s only when Eric Clapton charges into ”˜Forever Man’ that the powerhouse opens its doors to the audience: the arresting bass snap and guitar phrases fired up with Clapton’s raspy vocals spunk things up and further into the song he melts into his first bleeding solo. There is a flash of guitar action by Winwood in the beginning but for the most part of the concert he is well rested behind the keys. Clapton further resonates on his soulful/melodic rendering of ”˜Presence of the Lord,’ a Blind Faith number. Winwood’s showmanship on the guitar gets full rein on ”˜Glad’ a rich and complex number he wrote in his days with Traffic. Winwood plinks on the keys as Clapton takes his cue and launches into twang-y guitar lines. ”˜Glad’ was originally written and performed with three sections, though on this performance only two were retained. Also Clapton must be lauded for his spin on the improvisation-heavy track where his guitars substitute for Chris Wood’s saxophone portions on the original recording ”“ a mighty task that Clapton’s completely up to. On ”˜Well All Right’ Clapton works his fingers to the bone ”“ the song is chock full of astoundingly speedy solos and makes for a brilliant evocation of the blues. Clapton’s rendition of JJ Cale’s ”˜After Midnight’ is a bit of a let down though: played in a completely different time signature the revved-up version is a bit too speedy for one’s liking. Towards the end of the show, Clapton and Widwood both break into individual solo performances that set the evening ablaze. A tad predictably, Clapton rolls in with Robert Johnson’s ”˜Rambling on My Mind.’ All alone on stage with his acoustic guitar, Clapton for the moment metamorphoses into a wandering blues musician of the Sixties. Winwood casts a haunting spell as he sings ”˜Georgia on My Mind,’ eerily recalling Ray Charles’ famous version of the song. Towards the end, with ”˜Little Wing’ and ”˜Voodoo Chile,’ they pay a smashing tribute to a common love, Jimi Hendrix. Short snippets of conversations with both Clapton and Winwood about their experiences playing together and the preparation for the concert help string together the performances that grace this film. This also throws up some interesting bits of trivia like one about the track ”˜Them Changes.’ The duo had decided to play the track as their tribute to Buddy Miles but even as they were rehearsing for it, Miles passed away.

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This documentary is a spellbinding viewing and listening experience full of nostalgia, showmanship, a great selection of songs featuring two of the most celebrated artists of the past few decades. It’s a great show and tell but the star of this entire DVD is undoubtedly the incredible musicianship that Clapton and Winwood bring to the stage.

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