Music News

Eric Clapton Is God, but Steve Winwood Is Not

The good news: God is coming — soon. The bad news: He's bringing Steve Winwood.

The good news: He smites with guitar instead of cricket plagues. The bad news: He won't be smiting the Jonas Brothers.

The good news: "After Midnight." The bad news: "Higher Love."

The good news: You don't have to be on Peter's "list" to get in. The bad news: You'll probably pay a scalper more than $100 to get in.

The good news: Rumor has it he's resurrected Blackie, his favorite guitar. The bad news: Insert "Tears in Heaven" joke here.

The bad news: Those who pass through the gates will find themselves in Glendale. The good news: People will be smoking pot. A lot of it.

The good news: God will be playing "Layla." The bad news: Steve Freaking Winwood.

So, yes, it's a reunion for Eric Clapton — long ago anointed "God" by a London hood using spray paint on a subway wall — and Steve Winwood, who is known simply as "Steve Winwood." It's been 40 years since the two men formed Blind Faith, and in its current iteration, the duo truly shows us the two faces of geezer rock. Clapton represents the noble side: serious guitar skills topped with serious songwriting that only occasionally is appropriate for the soundtrack to a John Travolta movie. When he collaborates, it's with Elton John, B.B. King, or Jeff Beck.

Winwood is the dark side. Yes, there was "Gimme Some Lovin,'" and a few other gems back in the '60s, but since then, he's been focused on writing pap cravenly designed to top the charts. Now it's been about 30 years since he's recorded anything worth listening to.

But both men have records to pimp — Clapton has an upcoming collaboration with J.J. Cale, and Winwood is pushing his Nine Lives — so why not hit the road together?

I'll admit that I haven't listened to Nine Lives — primarily because it's a Steve Winwood album. I have heard the first single, "Dirty City," which features Clapton. It was just enough to know better than to waste any money or time on the rest. It was heavy on the bongos, light on the rock, and seemed like much more of a Winwood song than what I would hope to hear Clapton writing.

But if Eric Clapton thinks it's worthwhile to go on tour with this caliber of musician, then that's his call. Winwood has been whining for years that Blind Faith never reached its true potential, that there was so much more they could have done, that he's spent years trying to recapture the magic. Maybe Clapton just decided to throw him a bone.

The reviews have been positive. Even in their 60s, these guys have stamina. Clapton hasn't lost anything, playing with all the power he ever had and the maturity to dial the intensity back as necessary. The set lists have focused more on the early-era work and Winwood, understandably committed to rekindling the flame that he let die 40 years ago, has been highlighting his early work and mercifully neglecting the blue-eyed soul chapter of his repertoire. That passes for the good news to me.

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Brian Bardwell