Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Music review: Winwood underwhelms, but Santana cooks at Cruzan

Carlos Santana at the Cruzan Amphiteatre on Sunday.
(Photo by Tom Craig/Live Nation)

By Thom Smith

Both were boy wonders.‭ ‬Both were performing in public before they reached puberty.‭ ‬Both‭ ‬have kept the fires burning,‭ ‬enthralling,‭ ‬inspiring and enlightening audiences for more than five decades.‭

But perhaps Sunday‭’‬s show at Cruzan Amphitheatre in West Palm Beach‭ ‬explains why the Rock‭ & ‬Roll Hall of Fame has inducted Carlos Santana as an individual artist,‭ ‬but Steve Winwood only as a member of Traffic.

For Winwood,‭ ‬it‭ ‬was a night of‭ “‬perhapses.‭”‬

Perhaps the sound mix was uneven.‭ ‬No.‭ ‬The sound was uniform throughout the shed.‭

Perhaps it was an unfamiliar song here or there.‭ ‬No.‭ “‬They‭’‬ve been playing the same set all tour,‭”‬ a sound tech said.‭

Perhaps he was road-weary.‭ ‬Possible.‭ ‬His‭ ‬2010‭ ‬touring schedule began Feb.‭ ‬9‭ ‬in Durham,‭ ‬N.C.,‭ ‬with four stateside dates,‭ ‬broke for three months,‭ ‬then‭ ‬jumped to Europe‭ ‬for‭ ‬16‭ ‬May through mid-June well-received shows with Eric Clapton.‭ ‬After one solo show in‭ ‬Chicago on June‭ ‬26,‭ ‬he hit the heartland as opener for Santana.‭

Twenty-three shows in‭ ‬33‭ ‬days.‭

Was he tired‭? ‬He didn‭’‬t appear to be.‭ ‬At age‭ ‬62,‭ ‬he seems fit,‭ ‬the ideal image of‭ ‬a boy wonder half a century later.

Perhaps‭ ‬it was his band.‭ ‬Five players including Winwood.‭ ‬Competent,‭ ‬but hardly inspiring.‭ ‬Perhaps Steve‭ ‬was deferring to the lead act.‭ ‬Didn‭’‬t want to show up his elder.

After all,‭ ‬so many times in his career he was not the dominant force.‭ ‬ His first gig,‭ ‬at age‭ ‬15,‭ ‬was in the Spencer Davis Group.‭ ‬Traffic was a joint effort,‭ ‬and with the likes of Dave Mason and Jim Capaldi,‭ ‬egos were bound to clash.‭ ‬Longevity wasn‭’‬t in the cards.‭ ‬Then came Blind Faith,‭ ‬a one-album wonder with Clapton and Ginger Baker,‭ ‬back to Traffic with Capaldi for its dominant years.

Nothing Sunday night was dominant.‭ ‬With its flute interludes,‭ ‬the opener,‭ ‬Secrets,‭ ‬conjured up some of early Traffic‭’‬s jazzy twists,‭ ‬and‭ ‬Dirty City,‭ ‬with Winwood on guitar,‭ ‬suggested more edge which built as the band ripped into‭ ‬Can‭’‬t Find My Way Home.‭ ‬But then the‭ ‬Low Spark of High-Heeled Boys‭ ‬needed a highlight.‭ ‬Too reserved.

Steve Winwood at the Cruzan.
(Photo by Tom Craig/Live Nation)

Going trio,‭ ‬Winwood swapped his beloved Hammond B-3‭ ‬for a Stratocaster and showed some fire in his solo on‭ ‬Dear Mr.‭ ‬Fantasy,‭ ‬but the song still seemed to drag.‭ ‬Then came a rousing‭ ‬,‭ ‬pumping,‭ ‬this-is-what-we expect-from-Steve-Winwood‭ ‬Gimme Some Lovin‭’‬.‭ ‬Alas,‭ ‬the set was over.‭

As fan‭ “‬sponge bob‭”‬ wrote on Winwood‭’‬s website Monday morning:‭ “‬Steve,‭ ‬Steve,‭ ‬Steve,‭ ‬you have fallen asleep at the wheel.‭ ‬I was so dissapointed‭ ‬(sic‭) ‬in your show‭;‬ it was like a jam session‭! ‬Just terrible.‭”

It didn‭’‬t help that,‭ ‬unlike‭ ‬Tampa the night before,‭ ‬when Winwood and band joined Santana and‭ ‬band for Marvin Gaye's‭ ‬Right On,‭ ‬the fans were treated to no what-if fireworks Sunday.‭

No sweet taste.‭ ‬No foul taste either.‭ ‬Just:‭ ‬Huh‭? ‬The music offered no depth,‭ ‬no power,‭ ‬no subtlety‭ ‬– a‭ ‬monaural memory in a high-def world.‭ ‬If this was earth music,‭ ‬then Winwood and Co.,‭ ‬are in the middle of a drought.

Back in the VIP area during intermission,‭ ‬UpShot,‭ ‬a local band that struggles for every gig it can get in a lean market,‭ ‬sounded better on‭ ‬its covers of the likes of‭ ‬Brown-Eyed Girl.‭

We have to wonder about Carlos Santana,‭ ‬too.‭ ‬Not about his talent or his music,‭ ‬but about what might have happened to him had the‭ ‬nation been embroiled so deeply in the immigration debate half a century ago when his family moved from Tijuana to San Francisco.‭ ‬Fortunately,‭ ‬he didn‭’‬t have to scale barbed wire or swim a river,‭ ‬and in‭ ‬1965,‭ ‬the same year he graduated high school,‭ ‬he became a U.S.‭ ‬citizen.

Actually,‭ ‬Santana is more a citizen of the world,‭ ‬as he expressed after opening with a powerful,‭ ‬energetic‭ ‬Yaleo:‭ “‬We are very grateful,‭ ‬appreciative.‭ ‬This is what Martin Luther King was talking about:‭ ‬unity,‭ ‬harmony,‭ ‬respect for one another.‭”

Then BOOM‭! ‬They were off,‭ ‬with the political‭ ‬Maria Maria,‭ ‬vocalists Andy Vargas and Tony Lindsay‭ ‬going back and forth:‭

See‭ ‬mi‭ ‬y‭ ‬Maria on the corner
Thinking of ways to make it better
In my mailbox there's an eviction letter
Somebody just said see you later

Then came the horns‭ ‬(Bill Ortiz and Jeff Cressman‭) ‬on‭ ‬Foo Foo,‭ ‬the salsa of‭ ‬Corazon Espinada,‭ ‬and Dennis Chambers‭’‬ exhausting drum solo,‭ ‬all enhanced by a dramatic light show and three video screens that served to amplify‭ ‬Santana‭’‬s world view.‭ ‬No where was it more evident than with the African tribal dancers on Santana‭’‬s first hit,‭ ‬Jingo,‭ ‬with musical emphasis to‭ ‬the‭ ‬percussion‭ ‬of Karl Perazzo and Raul Rekow‭ ‬and Freddie Ravel‭’‬s organ.‭ ‬Add Miami-raised Tommy Anthony on guitar and backing vocals and Benny Rietveld on bass and you have the complete package.‭

They go bluesy on‭ ‬Singing Winds,‭ ‬Crying Beasts,‭ ‬then have the crowd dancing in the aisles‭ ‬with‭ ‬Evil Ways and‭ ‬A Love Supreme.‭ ‬ Cream‭’‬s‭ ‬Sunshine of Your Love offered a taste from‭ ‬the new album,‭ ‬Guitar Heaven:‭ ‬The Greatest Guitar Classics of All Time‭ ‬(due Sept.‭ ‬21‭)‬ while‭ ‬Smooth/Dame tu amor‭ ‬recalled‭ ‬Ultimate Santana,‭ ‬the first such guest-star venture in‭ ‬2007.

Carlos Santana and the band.
(Photo by Tom Craig/Live Nation)

The band is blessed with energy‭; ‬every member wants to cook‭; ‬every member,‭ ‬however,‭ ‬knows he‭’‬s in a band and thus part of the team.‭

With only one album,‭ ‬Santana first played South Florida at the Miami Rock Festival at Miami-Hollywood Speedway Park in what is now Pembroke Pines‭ ‬in late December‭ ‬1969.‭ ‬Not much survives,‭ ‬no reviews,‭ ‬no set lists.‭ ‬By contrast,‭ ‬Woodstock is seared into the rock fan‭’‬s memory and was rekindled at Cruzan with‭ ‬a triptych video that began with the‭ “‬Woodstock chant‭”‬ and continued in perfect synch on stage with‭ ‬Soul Sacrifice.‭ ‬Hits from album No.‭ ‬2,‭ ‬Abraxas,‭ ‬followed:‭ ‬Black Magic Woman/Gypsy Queen,‭ ‬Oye Como‭ ‬Va.‭

Into the Night,‭ ‬another‭ ‬Ultimate‭ ‬cut, was followed by‭ ‬the Chambers Brothers‭’‬ Love Peace and Happiness‭ ‬that segued into‭ ‬Freedom.‭

Thus a tale of two concerts:‭ ‬Winwood,‭ ‬full of promise but failing to fulfill,‭ ‬and Santana,‭ ‬leaving the audience screaming for more but satisfied.‭ ‬Such is rock‭ ‬‘n‭’‬ roll.

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