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Eric Clapton and Steve Winwood at the Bowl: Fantasy becomes reality*


The stairway to classic-rock heaven extended straight into the Hollywood Bowl on Tuesday night as '60s British rock heroes Eric Clapton and Steve Winwood closed their all-too-quick 14-city, three-week U.S. tour with a nearly 2 ½-hour excursion through the music they created, individually and collectively, three and four decades ago.

Even without considering any of the music that either Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inductee has made in the past 30 years, they had plenty to draw from, starting with a generous sampling of the material from their brief 1969 stint together in the super group Blind Faith, and dipping into Clapton’s subsequent tenure with Derek & the Dominos and Winwood’s with Traffic.

The highlight of the evening was their take on Jimi Hendrix's "Voodoo Chile." At the end of the regular portion of the show, Clapton peeled off the opening lines of the song, one rock guitar deity saluting another. Then he marshaled his troops on a fearless extended trek through its dynamic intricacies, swelling and condensing, advancing then retreating, Winwood’s vocal injecting sinewy soulfulness in place of Hendrix’s gruff, sensual attack.

It fit in with their own songs that spoke to a time when the prime movers in pop music were more interested in musical and spiritual exploration than getting their songs placed in TV commercials or the closing credits of hit films.

Clapton, 64, and Winwood, 61, used their collaboration to revel in their shared love of American roots styles from blues to soul to R&B, Winwood’s whiskey-drenched voice as supple as ever, and paired sympathetically on several numbers by Clapton’s sandpapery vocal cords. “Lowdown,” “Tough Luck Blues” and “How Long” let Clapton flex the six-string prowess that generated those “Clapton is God” scrawls on subway walls all those years ago -- not just the blinding flurries of distortion-sheathed runs but gossamer-light pianissimo passages as well.

Clapton’s virtuosity was always in service of emotional expression; he never resorted to the meaningless displays of technique that so many guitar wizards born in his wake feel the need to exhibit.

Likewise, there was no booming introduction of a historic summit meeting of two rock legends. Clapton, Winwood and the band nonchalantly sauntered onstage a few minutes after the scheduled 8 p.m. start time, picked up their instruments and launched into Blind Faith’s “Had to Cry Today,” with its tone-setting opening line, “It is already written that today will be one to remember.”

Few in the packed house would disagree.

It was an evening predominantly about music, not personality, despite the storied musicians who commanded the spotlight. Cameras that projected video on four large screens to carry images to the far corners of the sold-out Bowl devoted far more time to close-ups of hands on guitar necks and piano and organ keys than on the famous weathered faces looking down on them.

Clapton worked his black Fender Stratocaster, except for during an acoustic segment, while Winwood shifted between electric guitar, acoustic piano and the signature Hammond organ he’s so closely identified with.

Rather than last year's tour that was billed as a Blind Faith reunion, Clapton and Winwood were accompanied this time by an ace touring band consisting of bassist Willie Weeks, keyboardist Chris Stainton and powerhouse drummer Abe Laboriel Jr. (familiar to boomer rock fans who have caught Paul McCartney on tour in recent years). Singers Michelle John and Sharon White consistently brought deeply felt support.

Winwood’s elegant and forlorn vocal on Blind Faith’s “Can’t Find My Way Home” spoke of a generation adrift, a plea for some kind of anchor that Clapton answered with the promise of spiritual salvation in his showpiece from the same group “Presence of the Lord.”

A stripped-down acoustic segment midway through gave Winwood the spotlight for a solo reading of Traffic’s poignant treatise on the price of rock 'n’ roll stardom, “Low Spark of High Heeled Boys,” for which he accompanied himself on piano. Clapton and members of the band returned for another unplugged run through of “Layla,” during which he and Winwood traded solos on their respective acoustic guitars.

A three-minute ovation followed “Voodoo Chile,” after which all returned for encore performances of “Cocaine,” the one number of the night that felt more dutiful than inspired, and Traffic’s soaring “Dear Mr. Fantasy,” that clarion call to one who can conjure the magic that only music can create.

On this night, that wish was no fantasy.

-- Randy Lewis 

Photo: Steve Winwood, left, and Eric Clapton. Credit: Irfan Khan / Los Angeles Times

*This story has been updated. An earlier version said Clapton and Winwood were not responsible for the creation of Jimi Hendrix's "Voodoo Chile." Winwood played organ on the original recording.

Comments () | Archives (8)

Yes, that concert was truly a wonder. I have been floating on air from the memory of it all day.

Why can't I email this article? Can't find an email or send to button for this article!

I agree with Mr. Lewis that Voodoo Chile was a highlight of the show. However, I'm afraid that he is incorrect in stating that "they weren't responsible for the song's creation" since Mr. Winwood was on the original recording on Hendrix's Electric Ladyland.

What do you mean "Even though they weren’t responsible for [Voodo Chile's] creation"? Winwood played the Hammon B3 on the original with Jimi Hendrix on Electric Ladyland. The song was essentially a jam with Jimi, Steve Winwood, Jack Cassidy on base, and Mitch Mitchell. With the exception of the lyric, Steve Winwood was essential to that seminal cut and Jimi would be the first to say so -- he had been dying to work with Winwood.

"Even though they weren’t responsible for the song’s creation" WRONG!!!

Not Clapton... but Winwood plays on Voodoo Chile.

"Voodoo Chile" is a song by The Jimi Hendrix Experience from the album Electric Ladyland. Recorded on May 2, 1968 at the Record Plant Studios in New York City, the recording session included Mitch Mitchell, drummer of The Jimi Hendrix Experience, Steve Winwood of Traffic on B3 organ, and Jack Casady of Jefferson Airplane on bass duties. The song, basically a 15-minute blues jam, evolved into the final product over the course of an hour.

Review of the concert in the LA Times this morning. Thanks again!

Highlights for me were...'Pearly Queen', 'Low Spark of High Heeled Boys', 'Can't Find My Way Home', 'Glad' and 'Dear Mr. Fantasy'. All Stevie Winwood tunes! Couldn't "God" Clapton find a decent pair of pants to wear onstage at the Bowl? Even his heroes like Muddy Waters, B.B King, Robert Johnson, etc. knew how to dress to impress a paying audience. It looked like he just fell off the couch...ouch! Also...no Spencer Davis or Cream tunes?

I'm not sure what concert these Neo-fites attended, but it certainly wasn't the same one that my wife and I saw on June 30,
2009 at the Hollywood Bowl. I'm one of the biggest Clapton fans and would agree he is on a level most would kill to perform at, but we paid $750.00 to see a tired, haggered looking Clapton catering to the failing health of Steve Winwood, limping on with 3rd rate songs, not hits. Only twice in 2.5 hours was the crowd on it's feet. Time is clearly not on their sides! We expected this final night to be a night of both of their best, greatest hits but it was far, FAR from that! We left dissappointed and felt we should have caught him on Direct TV's 101 and saved our money. I would never knock a chance to see Clapton live but we paid top dollar to hear his best and got anything but. Towards the end of "Cocaine" Clapton's eyes were so shut it looked like he'd been up doing lines for days! Clapton looked tired and though Steve Winwood's voice is still amazing, on the high notes his vocals cracked BAD! Wake-up people, these guys had once chance to go out on top and fell far, FAR short of that. I actually felt robbed of my money.

-J.C. Los Angeles


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