Eric Clapton and Steve Winwood -- Concert Review

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They began with "Had to Cry Today," Cut 1 from Side 1 of the only album they recorded together. And Steve Winwood, one of rock's singular voices, and Eric Clapton, among its most revered guitar gods, played it as if they simply wanted to.

The Blind Faith track's simple riff shook off its 40 years of LP dust and held up, with Clapton deploying a trademark stinging solo and Winwood's vocal defying the decades. It was a bracing start to a night of shared history between two Rock Hall of Famers that raised the musical question "what if?"

What if Blind Faith had somehow been able to stick it out for more than one record? The musical chemistry Tuesday at the Bowl, the last night of a brief U.S. tour, was a reminder of what briefly was and might have been.

This wasn't a case of two aging rock stars hiding amid a slew of musicians who take the heat off them. There was a band dynamic, with only five players onstage, plus two backup singers. And it was a display of teamwork -- if not camaraderie, as the headliners rarely interacted. Clapton's guitar replaced the sax riff in Traffic's "Glad," and Winwood played second guitar on the "Unplugged" (and uninspired) arrangement of "Layla."

But those in the sold-out crowd who expected a greatest-hits recital were out of luck. Sure, there was Clapton's crusty "Cocaine," but there also was Winwood's gentle "There's a River." For every "Forever Man," there were two ancient blues.

And it was those timeless blues numbers where Clapton was most in his element. It gave him the chance to show off that effortless guitar work -- like he never even had to learn how to play the damn thing. The video screens often showed close-ups of his hands that make it look so easy, like the pro golfers do.

Many of Winwood's best moments came not behind his signature Hammond B3 but the piano. He worked it during a solo reading of "The Low Spark of High Heeled Boys" that was a show highlight. At four-plus minutes, it likely was among the briefest renditions of the Traffic classic.

All of Side 1 of "Blind Faith" eventually got played, with "Well All Right" sounding like a Santana outtake and "Can't Find My Way Home" as longingly beautiful as ever. But probably the night's most affecting song was a whisper-to-wail epic take on "Voodoo Chile," deliberately shaken from its Hendrix days. Few in the crowd remained seated afterward.

Clapton's first solo following a brief acoustic subset was telling. It had a particular bite -- like "yeah, that was cool, but electric guitar is where it's at." Yes, fans of Strat abuse had plenty to cheer about, but that wasn't what this night was about. It was a 130-minute re-exploration of fundamentals and a revisiting of an all-too-brief collaboration of legends.

Venue: Hollywood Bowl (Tuesday, June 30)

Set List
Had to Cry Today
Low Down
After Midnight
Presence of the Lord
Sleeping in the Ground
Well All Right
Tough Luck Blues
Pearly Queen
There's a River
Forever Man
The Low Spark of High Heeled Boys
How Long Blues
Can't Find My Way Home
Split Decision
Voodoo Chile

Dear Mr. Fantasy
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