Steve Winwood named his new album "Roll With It." He should have named it "On A Roll."
If anyone in pop music is on a roll, it's Steve Winwood. And Monday night at ParkWest, he showed 7,500 fans just why he's the best in the pop-rock business right now. His music is downright irresistible.What's ironic is that Winwood's music has had that same irresistible sound for more than 20 years. But mainstream success didn't come until the "High Life" album a couple of years back.
Since then, it's been a one-way ride to superstardom for a songwriter who has always had critical acclaim, but who for the most part went unrecognized through the 1960s and 1970s with the Spencer Davis Group, Traffic, Blind Faith and a solo career.
Not that Winwood hasn't always had a devoted following. The devotees of Winwood's band Traffic are fanatical. And Spencer Davis Group songs like "Gimme Some Lovin"' and "I'm A Man" are '60s classics recognized by one and all.
But it wasn't those tunes most had come to hear Monday night. It was the newer hits, like "Valerie" and "Help Me Angel" and "While You See A Chance" they came to hear. And Winwood delivered.
The ParkWest appearance may have been one of the first stops on Winwood's "Roll With It" tour, but Winwood and his eight-member band performed with mid-tour precision. While he displayed a friendly rapport with the audience, rarely did he slow down long enough for the audience to catch its collective breath.
He just kept plowing into one electrifying jam after another. It was the kind of show where your throat gets tired of cheering and your legs get tired of keeping that oh-so-soulful beat.
Winwood devoted a good chunk of his show to new tunes off the "Roll With It" LP, including the title track, the seductive ballad "Don't You Know What the Night Can Do" and "Put on Your Dancing Shoes."
After two hours of sizzling rock 'n' roll (and stifling dust), Winwood topped the show off with "Back in the High Life" - a song that fairly describes Winwood's meteoric rise to fame.
Opening for Winwood was Johnny Clegg and Savuka, perhaps the finest African-influenced band ever. Not only is their music culturally and politically relevant, it is musically seductive.
Clegg and his African band are a sensational blend of traditional African rhythms with a thumping rock 'n' roll beat. Throw in Clegg's amazing stage presence (there is no one in pop music today who can compete with Clegg when it comes to dancing on state), and you have a band that is virtually ruling the European charts right now.
The only comparison to Clegg's fusion of African rhythms and Western rock is Paul Simon's "Graceland." Only Clegg does it better.
Whether it is the hypnotic thump of "Bombs Away" or the reverberating rhythms of "Don't Walk Away," Clegg & Savuka are on the verge of superstardom. They are much more than a band with a great sound. To quote one reviewer, "It's much more important than music."
Half the fun of Clegg's music is seeing him and his band in concert. If Clegg ever makes a return appearance, see the show at all costs. The band's new album "Shadow Man" (Capitol) is also worth picking up.