NEW YORK: A Touch Of Faith - by J. Blake

Posted on 5/26/2009 by J. Blake

I am a life long Clapton fan and I’ve been lucky enough to have seen some landmark live Slowhand performances, including the Cream Reunion in 2005 and the Eric Clapton and Friends Benefit Concert at MSG for the Crossroads Center in 1999. On February 28, 2008 I was once again very fortunate and saw Clapton and Winwood live at Madison Square Garden.
Last Tuesday (May 19th,2009) two great collections were released to commemorate the historic three concert run. The first is a nicely packaged 2CD set that I feel, as a live album, does a great job of capturing the energy of the concerts (even though the order of a few of the tracks has been altered from how they were originally performed at the shows). The second collection is an equally well packaged 2DVD set, which features a documentary titled The Road to Madison Square Garden and four bonus performances. With the next several paragraphs, I will recount my personal experience of attending the final night of these amazing shows, as well as provide a brief review of the DVD set.

I have now seen Mr. Clapton in concert, somewhere in the ballpark of 12 times and I can honestly say that this show may have been the best live “Clapton” performance I have seen to date. Right from the opening guitar riff to Had to Cry Today it was evident that Winwood and Clapton were having fun, which was something that I feel was clearly lacking from the Cream Reunion, MSG shows. They ran through all of the expected Blind Faith songs and even the unexpected Sleeping In The Ground, which was a staple of the band’s live sets, in 1969. A Blind Faith version of the Sam Myers blues standard didn’t make it to an official CD release until Winwood’s 1995 box set titled Finer Things, but then again found a place on 2001’s 2CD Deluxe Edition of the Blind Faith’s only album. The most surprising thing about hearing these Blind Faith classics was the fact that Winwood’s singing voice has not changed at all in 40 years. Due to modern advancements in instrumental technology the music sounded updated, but Winwood’s voice sounded exactly like it did on the 1969 vinyl LP, except maybe with even a little more soul.

Hearing Blind Faith material was amazing, but the real gems of the night were the songs that can not be found on the 1969 album or on the set lists of the landmark 2007 Highclere Castle & Crossroads Guitar Festival performances. Perhaps the most shocking moment for me was when just three songs into the show, the ever so familiar riff to 1985’s Forever Man came screaming out of Clapton’s amp. I have read other reviews for these shows that claim that this song is a Clapton “staple”, but in actuality he has not performed this song regularly live in almost 20 years. It was probably one of the last "hits" I expected to hear that night, and yet there it was! Clapton’s lead work was explosive, yet tasteful, and the song was made even better by Winwood's vocals on the second verse and backups. It was awesome! (It should be noted that on both the CD and DVD collections, the order of Forever Man and the Buddy Miles tribute, Them Changes, have been switched.)

Other highlights of the show included the Traffic classics Glad and No Face, No Name, No Number, Winwood’s Split Decision, as well as Winwood’s moving solo rendition of Georgia on My Mind on Hammond organ. Surprisingly, the version of No Face, No Name, No Number used for both the DVD & CD features a very rough and slightly “off” vocal performance by Winwood; which is something I don’t recall it being when I saw the show. On the Clapton front, he and the band eased their way into what would become a blistering and furious version of Otis Rush’s minor keyed blues standard, Double Trouble, it was clear that he came to play. In my book this performance alone was worth the price of admission. On this song, which was once a staple of his 70’s live sets, Clapton safely secured his status as a "Guitar God" and laid any worries to rest that he may be losing his fire in his old age. So if you’re not interested in seeing Clapton shred at length, I warn you that this DVD may not be for you.

I am an enormous fan of Derek and the Dominos, hearing Tell The Truth and Little Wing was quite a thrill. I read comments that said Tell The Truth sounded "empty without Derek Trucks’ slide fills”, but I find a few things clearly wrong with this statement. If it was missing anything, it would have been the slide work of the man that originated those “fills”, the late Duane Allman! However on the contrary, I found it to be a fine rendition. Let’s not forget that Clapton played this song without a second guitar player for the entire Dominos tour. It was also a treat to hear Winwood filling in on the Whitlock vocal parts for both the Dominos original and the Hendrix classic.

Following what I found to be quite a moving version of Little Wing, Clapton shocked the audience by singing and playing the opening line and riff to Hendrix’s Voodoo Chile (a song in which Steve Winwood played on the original recording). The slow throbbing/muddy rhythm combined with Winwood’s soulful vocal, conjured the spirits of the blues greats like a mythic Voodoo ritual. Clapton seemed to channel his old friend Jimi as he rifled off several "face melting" solos and dirty blues guitar fills. The version grooved on for 16+ minutes and put the audience into a blues induced trance. The air was hot and steam rose from the crowd as they stood in silence, just swaying back and forth in time to the music. It was breathtaking. Unfortunately the DVD just does not manage to capture the pure magic of actually experiencing the
live performance. During this live performance the attention of the crowd was kept by Clapton exorcising his own demons through a fury of amazing blues guitar work. I would not be surprised if some DVD viewers find watching the extended (almost exclusively) one chord jam redundant and at times boring.

The two legends finished the show with Blind Faith’s most famous song, Can’t Find My Way Home, a lackluster version of the tired Clapton staple Cocaine and a fitting encore of the Traffic classic Dear Mr. Fantasy (please note that the order of these last 2 songs are switched on both the CD and DVD sets). It is also worth noting that Clapton’s solo acoustic performance was of Robert Johnson’s Kind Hearted Woman. Clapton played the
Johnson’s Ramblin’ On My Mind at two previous shows and also on the CD/DVD sets.

The DVD set itself, like the CDs, does a good job overall capturing the energy and “feel” of the actual live performances. I do find it odd that they decided to switch around the order of the songs (as mentioned above). It is unfortunate that in the production of the DVD they decided to cut out the cover of J.J. Cale’s Low Down, but even with those minor changes the set is well put together and very enjoyable. Viewers who watch
the brilliant live performances of the concert film on disc 1, will be treated to several interesting interview segments. These segments include Clapton and Winwood discussing their relationship and the song selection process for the shows. The producers do a good job of supplying just enough of these little gems to enhance the viewing experience, without having them seem intrusive and over abundant.

Luckily a version of Low Down did find a place on disc 2, along with live concert performances of Robert Johnson’s Kind Hearted Woman, which was played exclusively on 02/28/08, as well as Crossroads, which only managed to find its way on to the set list on 02/25/08. In what might be my favorite of the Special Features, disc 2 also contains a wonderful solo Clapton performance of Robert Johnson’s Ramblin’ On My Mind, filmed during one of the sound checks. The entire performance is intercut with tasteful B-roll footage of both, an empty Madison Square Garden and the busy NYC streets just outside of the arena. It also features a bit of an extended instrumental opening and a laid back Clapton just struttin’ his stuff, seemingly for his own enjoyment.

Probably the biggest selling point of the Special Features is the 37 minute documentary titled The Road To Madison Square Garden. It is a little rough around the edges editing-wise, but manages to be both interesting and informative. It contains your “standard/run of the mill” Clapton/Winwood B-roll, but also features new interviews with Clapton and Winwood discussing how they met, their relationship through the years and their careers leading up to the MSG concerts. My biggest complaint regarding the documentary is that it recycles most disc 1’s interview footage. It is something that is perfectly understandable from a producing standpoint, but slightly disappointing for the viewer, because while watching the lengthy featurette, you can’t help but feel like you’ve already heard a lot of the information before…because you have.

Overall the set gets a big thumb’s up from me…especially for its blues content. It is beautifully shot on high-quality HD video, with both DTS surround and stereo audio options. My biggest complaint is visually, the footage is edited too much and too quickly for my taste. I find it frustrating that so many producers these days think that viewers’ attention spans are way too short. This film seems to rarely settle on a single shot for more than just a few seconds and when it does, it always appears to settle on an obscure shot where you can’t really see what Clapton or Winwood are doing musically. I wish that producers and editors would not be afraid to just hold on something, especially when it is a performance as brilliant as the ones captured on this DVD.

Note To Producers: Trust me, people won’t get tired of watching Clapton’s hands move up and down the fret board as he solos, or of a medium shot where you can see both his hands and his facial expressions. I’m sorry, but I’m just not that interested in seeing what Winwood’s foot is doing during a Clapton solo.

Don’t get me wrong, this DVD doesn’t take this style to a total extreme and I’m not saying that the editing ruins the viewing experience, but I just personally feel that the experience could have been made better if they didn’t cut away from the action so often. For example, in Scorcese’s The Last Waltz, almost the entire performance of Muddy Waters’ Mannish Boy is covered in one continuous shot. Granted in that case it was out of necessity, but it still worked. It’s still amazing to watch and the fact that you can see Muddy’s face for the entire performance of that song is absolutely captivating.

Even with my minor complaints, I recommend both of the recent CLAPTON & WINWOOD: LIVE AT MADISON SQUARE GARDEN sets…especially if you’re a fan of both/either of them. I also recommend that you try to see them as they tour together this June. I’m seeing them in Philadelphia on June 12th and will undoubtedly be reporting back to all of you the following week with my thoughts.

Keep Rockin’,
J. Blake

Check out some NYC Blues with J. Blake & The Earthquake at: or as well as on Facebook.

Track List for CD:
01. Had To Cry Today
02. Low Down
03. Them Changes
04. Forever Man
05. Sleeping In The Ground
06. Presence Of The Lord
07. Glad
08. Well All Right
09. Double Trouble
10. Pearly Queen
11. Tell The Truth
12. No Face, No Name, No Number
13. After Midnight
14. Split Decision
15. Rambling On My Mind
16. Georgia On My Mind
17. Little Wing
18. Voodoo Chile
19. Can’t Find My Way Home
20. Dear Mr. Fantasy
21. Cocaine
(Note: The list is the same for the DVD, minus track #2.)
Set List for:
February 28, 2008
Madison Square Garden, NYC
01. Had To Cry Today
02. Low Down
03. Forever Man
04. Them Changes (dedicated to the late Buddy Miles)
05. Sleeping In The Ground
06. Presence Of The Lord
07. Glad
08. Well Alright
09. Double Trouble
10. Pearly Queen
11. Tell The Truth
12. No Face
13. After Midnight
14. Split Decision
15. Kind Hearted Woman Blues (EC solo acoustic)
16. Georgia On My Mind (SW solo hammond)
17. Little Wing
18. Voodoo Chile
19. Can’t Find My Way Home
20. Cocaine
21. Dear Mr Fantasy

Copyright © 2009 - J. Blake. All Rights Reserved

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