THE LEFSETZ LETTER: Back In The High Life Again

"Well I feel so good everything is getting hot
You'd better take those ties off 'cause the place is on fire"

Dinosaurs are roaming the earth. Everybody from the Eagles to McCartney is on the road for another dip into the cash jar. And, make no mistake, these shows are nostalgia.

McCartney and the Stones under their plastic surgery like to pretend they're au courant by releasing new material. But, these acts haven't released anything vital since the seventies.

At least the Eagles aren't pretending. They're playing the hits. Note for note.

The youngsters? They've got it all reversed. They're stars first, musicians second. We were enamored of musicianship. Nobody knew the scene was going to blow up. But when baby boomers heard those records thirty odd years ago, they had to buy them, they had to go to the show, they came to believe.


Bob Lefsetz, Santa Monica-based industry legend, is the author of the e-mail newsletter, "The Lefsetz Letter". Famous for being beholden to no one, and speaking the truth, Lefsetz addresses the issues that are at the core of the music business: downloading, copy protection, pricing and the music itself.

His intense brilliance captivates readers from Steven Tyler to Rick Nielsen to Bryan Adams to Quincy Jones to music business honchos like Michael Rapino, Randy Phillips, Don Ienner, Cliff Burnstein, Irving Azoff and Tom Freston.

Never boring, always entertaining, Mr. Lefsetz's insights are fueled by his stint as an entertainment business attorney, majordomo of Sanctuary Music's American division and consultancies to major labels.

Bob has been a weekly contributor to CelebrityAccess and Encore since 2001, and we plan many more years of partnership with him. While we here at CelebrityAccess and Encore do not necessarily agree with all of Bob's opinions, we are proud to help share them with you.

But now the scene is running on fumes. Going to the see the oldsters is about reconnecting with your past. The new acts are so lousy that nobody wants to see them in quantity. But tonight, I saw the future. I saw music.

On our second date Felice asked me about Kim. What went down there. How it was when she left.

I kicked back in the train riding down from the Getty Center and told her it was like "My Love's Leavin'". From "Back In The High Life". Did she know "Back In The High Life"?

Yes.

Well, I explained that the lyrics of "My Love's Leavin'" were written by Viv Stanshall, of the Bonzo Dog Band. An act known for testing the limits. But the words of "My Love's Leavin'" were completely heartfelt. As if you caught the jester backstage. The lines that resonated, that I found myself singing again and again when there was an emptiness in the house, were:

"Here am I
Where are you?"

So, when I told Felice that I had Mike Krebs put me down for plus one for tonight's Steve Winwood show, she was excited. That album is something we share.

But I told Felice not to expect that person. The one doing the dance music, in hip outfits, moving awkwardly to the beat. Steve Winwood had renounced all that. Now he was a member of the jam band scene.

Walking the backstreets to the Wilshire Theatre we stumbled on Steve's bus. It had a trailer. The acts of yore who can still tour, if they travel by bus, have at LEAST one truck, usually a semi! For the equipment, for the staging. I was getting the creeps. Last time I'd seen Steve the Wiltern had been half-empty. I anticipated a box office disaster.

But the lobby was FULL of fiftysomethings. People who remembered. Who knew that you've got to touch greatness when you can. That someday Steve Winwood is going to die, and to be able to listen to him, up close and personal, all these years later…you can't turn this down.

There was no stage set. No backdrop. Just a few tiny amps. And a Hammond B3.

There was no arrival announcement. Steve sauntered on stage while the lights were still up looking like he'd come over from Nibbler's. In a button-down with his undershirt shining through. But then he sat down at the organ and got ready to play.

It was a band. Some guy from Philadelphia on assorted reed instruments. A percussionist and a drummer. And Jose Neto on guitar. Worth the price of admission himself. And, with the notes of a flute rendering the intro, in a few seconds, everybody was rocking to "Pearly Queen".

I don't know why Traffic's second album is so good. Whether it was because Dave Mason was in the band, or the album was produced by Jimmy Miller, but the record was the apotheosis of the act. "Pearly Queen" was an integral number. Along with "Forty Thousand Headmen", which the band also played.

You don't go to a concert often and know every song. But tonight was one of those evenings. But I can't say I knew every note. Because there was enough improvisation for a follower of the Grateful Dead.

Oh, it wasn't like seeing Dylan. The songs were recognizable. But the players stretched out, changed the notes. The old material breathed new again.

And the new material… "About Time" was my favorite album of 2003. Listen to it. Twice. This is not the kind of adventure you expect from a member of the Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame. It's not like anything the man has done before. It's a risk, and it SUCCEEDS!

To hear Jose work out on "Silvia (Who Is She?)" was positively jaw-dropping. And that groove of "Different Light"…ahh.

Then again, towards the end of the opening set, Steve picked up his guitar and played "Can't Find My Way Home". The day one of today's bands cuts A SINGLE track as good as this Blind Faith classic is when I stop complaining that the old stuff is better than the new.

Oh, the second set had highlights. Minor numbers like "Light Up And Leave Me Alone"… And "Rainmaker"!! They turned the coda into a song itself. The drumming was mesmerizing.

Still, when Steve whipped off a note perfect "Dear Mr. Fantasy" he had the audience applauding forever. On their feet. In the middle of the show.

Still, the highlight was…"Back In The High Life Again".

In the bathroom during intermission I overheard the urinating buddies discussing what was coming up. They anticipated "Freedom Rider" and "Glad". Which Steve HAD played the last time I'd seen him.

But they were wrong.

But it didn't bother me. I haven't heard this kind of talk in the loo in decades. Today everybody's shuffling, they're quiet.

Still, I was sure what song Steve was playing when he picked up the mandolin two and a half hours in. I've seen him do it before. It was "John Barleycorn".

But the intro…it never quite segued into the groove, the hook. Steve was working out, dancing into a number that was not familiar. Until it was. He was going to play an acoustic version of "Back In The High Life Again".

"We'll have ourselves a time
And we'll dance 'til the morning sun
And we'll let the good times come in
And we won't stop 'til we're done"

This was an audience of true believers. They didn't look good. Their hair was silver, if they had any at all. Their waistlines had expanded. But they remembered…when music changed the world.

During "Higher Love" the nerdiest child of the fifties jumped up to dance and never sat down, even though he was the lone standing member of his section.

And during the Traffic numbers, you could see everybody mouth the words.

People were running around with freshly purchased copies of "About Time".

They weren't there to be able to tell and impress somebody, there was only one thing that mattered, the music.

Steve spoke less than Dylan does. Which means essentially not at all.

He dazzled with his musicianship. The voice…that famous sound was still there. And the song choices!! "Medicated Goo"!!!

"We'll be back in the high life again
All the doors I closed one time will open up again"

I don't go out much anymore. Actually, all the action's inside, in front of the computer screen. And out isn't how I remember it. I was never one for clubs, never for dancing, never for making the scene. It was always about fulfillment. But you can't go to the movies anymore. And the music…it rarely contains any of the elements that hooked me to begin with.

But tonight was like the Fillmore East. The music was the star.

"And we'll drink and dance with one hand free
And have the world so easily
And oh we'll be a sight to see
Back in the high life again"

I lost ten years of my life somewhere back there. The nineties were almost a complete write-off. I was reeling from a separation that I didn't foresee. I had an operation that took years to recover from. I had no money. I teetered near the edge for so long that I wore out my constitution. I find it tough to endure hard times anymore. I just don't believe things will get better.

But they have.

I reached over, put my hand on Felice's back and told her I'd been back in the high life since I met her.

The oldie acts rush their material. As if they hate to play it. But Steve was possessed when he was strumming that mandolin. It was like he wasn't even there. That tiny instrument was taking complete dedication and concentration. And strumming it hard enough to make the full sound he desired seemed to release a load of endorphins in his body. It was as if he stopped moving his crowded limbs something terrible would happen. Or maybe it was that he just didn't want the moment to end.

But, after the better part of ten minutes, he and the band gave it a rest. And the assembled multitude jumped to its feet and hooted and hollered and applauded. For an ACOUSTIC NUMBER!

Maybe it was at this point, or during the next number, that I leaned into Felice's ear and asked her if she'd noted what Steve was wearing.

As she peered intently in the quasi-darkness I gave her the answer.

HIS JEANS!

I refuse to wear a tux. I won't go anywhere that requires me to substitute leather shoes for my Nikes. Because the musicians of yore, the ones I believed in, they wore the same clothes onstage as off. It was the music that shined, not them.

But I've been wavering. Wondering whether it's worth making the statement anymore. When my contemporaries are amassing a fortune in real estate, when so many of the acts I believed in have licensed their music, their gold, to hype the evanescent products of a consumer culture. But then I have a night like tonight, as a member of the congregation at the high church of rock and roll, and I know that I still believe. And that I'm not giving up, I'm not selling out. And that I'm not the only one.

If you need to leave early. If you need to see dancing. If you're dazzled by light shows. Don't go to see Steve Winwood.

But if your life flashes before you when you hear "Can't Find My Way Home". If you want to see a guitar hero who illustrates what a worthless hack Eric Clapton has become. If you want to see living, breathing rock and roll as opposed to antiquities like Cream. Go to see Steve Winwood.

I saw Cream twice. The second time was spectacular.

But Eric Clapton hasn't done anything great since "Layla". And Duane Allman was responsible for a ton of that.

Jimmy Miller worked wonders with Winwood. But, unlike the Glimmer Twins, Steve has equaled the work of his old helmsman on "About Time". He's still got it. And when the band chugged into "Crossroads" as the first encore, you didn't feel nostalgic, you felt alive.

And then, of course, when that number ended, after a moment of silence, Steve sat on the organ keys and brought everybody to their feet once again. With "Gimme Some Lovin'"!

The place was fire. It was totally hot. We were so glad we made it. So glad we made it. We not only remembered giving each other lovin', we were still doing it. EVERY DAY!

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