Photos by Jim Mimna
The Scene: As I tried to make my way through the thick and lively mass of people at The Paramount Theatre, I found myself enjoying the people watching. The lobby and bar area was packed full of people my dad’s age and I have to admit I was surprised to see such a large group of 50 and even 60 somethings. Growing up as a Steve Winwood fan myself I was expecting to see others who had grown up on his 80’s radio classics, but us youngsters were definitely in the minority. The crowd was buzzing with a first time concertgoer’s sort of vibe and an anticipation that could be seen on the faces of this mainly gray haired bunch. It became apparent to me right away that this energetic crowd was no fair-weather set of fans; they were the real deal and they were there to show their collective love for this amazing musician.
Opener: Bobby Long. A young English lad stood smack in the middle of a very simple stage with an acoustic guitar in hand and only a covered drum set and organ behind him. Bobby Long began his set with a quieter sound that seemed to catch the attention of the loud and somewhat fermented crowd that had started to filter in from the lobby. Although he stood alone on stage, his strong Blues infused and raspy sounding voice filled the theater. Long’s chilled out persona and heartfelt songs resonated as the crowd seemed to settle down and take notice as he belted out new tunes like “Who Have You Been Loving” and “Penance Fire Blues” from his 2011 album A Winter Tale. Long had a likeability that seemed to strike a chord with the older but fun-loving crowd. “You can tell by my accent that I’m from Boulder…Boulder, England,” he joked with the seated guests. Long’s music and sound falls somewhere between Mumford & Sons and the deep soulfulness of early Joe Cocker but with a cleaner edge. His performance and all around attitude was stunning. Keep an eye out for Bobby Long; he is going to be around for a while.
Steve Winwood: Musical icon Steve Winwood kicked off his set with a high-energy version of “I’m A Man,” and boy did he get the crowd jumping. The larger than life backing band kept the vigor alive with pulsating bongos, screaming saxophone (along with a multitude of other woodwind instruments), crisp percussion and killer guitar. Right out of the gate Winwood and crew truly had the mature audience in the palms of their hands.
From near the back of the Orchestra, where I was seated, I could see the silhouetted crowd rocking out and doing some interesting seat dancing. It sort of reminded me of how Muppets look when they dance: tethered to their seats. Some people felt so inclined to get down and dance that they vacated their seats for a standing only spot in the isle next to the wall.
After the first and second songs a few small groups scattered around gave Winwood a standing ovation. Then, after the third song in the set, “At Times We Do Forget” from 2008’s Nine Lives album, a much larger group jumped to their feet. Yes, you guessed it, this went on for the entire night, after every song most of the crowd honored the living legend with a deserved standing ovation.
Winwood played a very eclectic mix of songs from the many bands he played with during the 60’s and 70’s including the Traffic classic hit “Low Spark High-Heeled Boys.” You better believe the fans gave a standing ovation for this beloved beauty. Other sing along favorites included, “Higher Ground” and a take on “Back In The High Life Again” with Winwood center stage on mandolin. While he performed on the organ and piano for most of the show, he didn’t let us forget that he is one of the better guitarists out there. His sound and riffs are so clean and precise as they balance Blues, Folk and good old fashion Rock and Roll. Winwood played guitar on the Blind Faith classic “Can’t Find My Way Home” and the epic encore of my personal favorite Traffic cut “Dear Mr. Fantasy.” I too made my way up out of my seat after this one and found myself on my tippy-toes, cheering along with the crowd.
When it was all over, the show had reminded us of Winwood’s remarkable musical successes and how his timeless sound has transcended genres and also many generations. Steve Winwood performed a spectacular show while saying very little but giving the crowd exactly what they wanted, a night filled with hit after hit and a twinge of nostalgia.
Stage Presence: B-
Set/Light Show: B-