"Pop music is music for lonely people made by other lonely people."
Maybe that's why Winwood's show at the Greek last night resonated so much.
There was no backdrop. No patter. None of the trappings of today's music extravaganzas, which too often resemble Broadway as opposed to the Fillmore. Once upon a time music was something you listened to. Now it's become something you see. And we're worse off for it.
Call it the MTV hangover.
Attribute it to high ticket prices.
But if you took today's kids to a Stevie Winwood show they'd be amazed. They'd get a glimpse into how it once was. When we went to the show to be set free, to leave all our issues and failings behind. When there were no tapes, no hard drives, because live shows were about experimentation, with every performance just a little bit different, with surprises and imperfections just like life.
And the opening number, "I'm A Man," was a surprise. We didn't expect to be hit squarely between the eyes that hard. Those with vast catalogues tend not to oversell up front, they like to enter slowly and build, but to hear this song which has become even more famous in its extended Chicago Transit Authority version when the lights went down was to be jetted back to the sixties, when we were surfing the possibilities, when we felt fully alive, when music drove the culture and you were addicted to your transistor radio.
Not that every number was an oldie. Or "vintage" as Stevie put it. There were three cuts from the most recent album. And the extended solo in "Dirty City" won over the normally jaded and recalcitrant L.A. crowd. But this was a different kind of night. Standing O's came regularly. You see Stevie played those songs that touch our souls.
Like "Can't Find My Way Home."
Do you remember discovering it on the Blind Faith album? "Had To Cry Today" opened side one with the famous riff, and then came this number so ethereal, so piercing, that you wanted to merge with the vinyl, listening made you feel connected in a way regular life never did. Yes, we sat in our bedrooms, in the dark, with the headphones on, listening to "Can't Find My Way Home" so as to believe that everything truly could be right with the world, that someone got it, and if we could just go on the road with the band our lives would be perfect.
So, Stevie's strapped on his axe, the band locks into this languid groove and then…
That sudden realization. He's playing one of the most classic of classic tracks. Right now. You're there. You're tingling. You jump to your feet in exultation. You can't believe it. After all the losses, your life finally works. You've finally found your way home.
And we had the exact same experience when Stevie's picking his mandolin and you suddenly realize… HE'S PLAYING BACK IN THE HIGH LIFE!
"We'll be back in the high life again
All the doors I closed one time will open up again"
Isn't that what we're all looking for? An unlocking of those shut portals, so we can experience the joy we remember so well, do it all over again?
Everybody was drinking and dancing with one hand free. There were random screams. It was a direct route back to 1986, when our optimism was still intact.
And he played "Empty Pages," which was the highlight of the Traffic reunion album.
But speaking of Traffic… When the band played "Low Spark"… It was like being high, without any drugs. As if the music let you know you hadn't been forgotten, your life was worth it, you took the right path.
And there was jamming. And solos. And a blistering rendition of "Dear Mr. Fantasy." And it was everything a concert once was. The essence. The experience. Something you remembered in your head as opposed to with a t-shirt. Something you felt. Something that was such an incredible peak that not only did you go see this act the next time they came through, but other bands on a regular basis, because this was the highest point of your life, in the chapel of music, at the show.
We built it without anybody watching.
Once upon a time they featured this music on AM radio.
But then FM burgeoned and the acts thought of the possibilities. They took risks. They went on adventures. We learned about them via word of mouth. Whatever path we were on now changed. This is how powerful the music once was.
P.S. I went backstage to see Johnson Somerset. Producer of that "On It" track with William Topley that I raved about a couple of weeks back. And while we're exchanging history, who emerges into the hallway but the man himself.
And he was nothing like I expected him to be. Winwood was a regular guy. With a smile and a day's growth of beard he had no airs, it was stunning. He wanted to know what I was listening to. I was shocked into silence. I put the question back to him. He told me his nineteen year old son was his funnel, and that he didn't always remember the names, but he was interested in making music with said son after the first of the year, maybe with some Brazilian and Cuban influences.
And there are so many hits. He's such a legend. I told him he deserved his victory lap. Like Harvey Goldsmith engineered for Jeff Beck. But Stevie told me he didn't have a manager. That managers always wanted you to work when you didn't want to, to show up here, do that, he liked being in control of his own destiny.
And then a short Asian man came up and started talking about the Wrecking Crew bio. How he wanted to get a DVD to Stevie. Stevie said to send it via Dropbox. This guy was flummoxed, he didn't know from Dropbox. And when he walked away, I asked Stevie who it was.
You remember Phil Chen! He played bass for everyone from Jeff Beck to Jackson Browne, most famously with Rod Stewart.
And it wasn't a mob scene. There were only a handful of people. Chris Lord-Alge reminiscing about bringing Stevie to his mother's house in New Jersey for dinner…
And Chris says he'd like to hear "Time Is Running Out."
And I say I want to hear LUCK'S IN!
And that strikes a chord. These artists know their material. From the initial solo album, the one with little traction, before "Arc of a Diver."
And then Stevie tells me about the numbers they did at soundcheck, which were totally different. And told me he'd play "Rainmaker" if I came to hear him tonight in the desert. But when I agreed to come, he said…well maybe they wouldn't play it after all.
And he talked about playing songs from the Traffic reunion album from the nineties.
And we talked about going on the road playing complete albums.
And if you'd asked me that night in June 1970, when I saw the initial Traffic reunion show at the Fillmore East, if I'd ever be where I was last night, I'd say NO WAY!
But I was.