Soundstage Presents Steve Winwood

From 1974 to 1985, we were avid viewers of PBS's Soundstage, the show having presented such artists as Bob Dylan, Aretha Franklin, Bonnie Raitt, Al Green, and the Doobie Brothers. Thankfully, Soundstage was reborn in 2001 and now features performances in state-of-the-art HD video and Dolby 5.1 audio.

Not knowing this show background, and with the publicity surrounding the current Eric Clapton and Steve Winwood tour, we rented Soundstage: Steve Winwood from Netflix. As the concert opens, we had no idea as to the pedigree of the sidemen and, being lifelong fans of anything with which Winwood has been involved, were skeptical at first. We needn't have worried, however, for his choices soon made it clear that Winwood's support team had been around the block. Consider who's played with whom:

  • Randall Bramblett (flute, saxes, organ, vocals): Sea Level, Chuck Leavell. Greg Allman, Levon Helm, Allman Brothers Band, Widespread Panic, Traffic, Bonnie Raitt, Elvin Bishop, Robbie Robertson, Grateful Dead.
  • Walfredo Reyes, Jr. (drums, percussion): Carlos Santana, Traffic, Jackson Browne, Gloria Estefan, David Lindley, Ricki Lee Jones, Sergio Mendes, Smokey Robinson, Robbie Robertson, Joe Sample, Boz Scaggs.

  • Jose Neto (check out his signature Paradis guitar): Flora Purim, Harry Belafonte (20 years).
  • Edson "Cafe" da Silva (percussion): Larry Coryell, Gato Barbieri, Harry Belafonte, Eliane Elias, Sergio Mendes, James Taylor and Stevie Wonder. Also appeared on Randy Brecker’s Grammy winning album, Into the Sun.

Tracks on this DVD include Can't Find My Way Home, Empty Pages, Glad, Back In the High Life, Freedom Rider and several others. The band is so exceptional, as is the Soundstage audio recording, that they manage to make even a mediocre track like Bully thoroughly convincing in this context. And unlike a very old Blind Faith video we investigated earlier, Winwood's singing was on target. (We attribute this in part to the superior, miniaturized stage monitoring gear that is used by most major acts today, recalling that—as loud as both were playing—neither Eric Clapton nor Jack Bruce could hear one another when Cream got going on an extended jam.)

Listen to Winwood wind it out on Dear Mr. Fantasy

We do have a quibble with the DVD menu. Bonus tracks are usually clearly labeled as such at the top level menu, but not on this offering. The viewer has to select The Songs menu item, and even then is unaware that three bonus tracks exist unless Next is selected. So it was that we almost missed a soaring rendition of Rainmaker.

Although there was little to nothing in the way of stage theatrics, the periodic look of absolute delight on Winwood's face is infectuous. We look forward to seeing additional Soundstage offerings, being blown away by both the audio and video quality of this disk. And looking into this PBS series a little further, here is what we learned from their website:

The lights are one of the most important ingredients of the show. In order to cover the 90-foot wide stage, the lighting grid is over 500 feet. Over 96 house dimmers are utilized to create any desireable effect during the show. Soundstage utilizes 12 cameras for every production. 1080p HD cameras are used in various placements throughout the studio to maximize the best shots possible. [Digital] audio tracks are taken to post production for editing, mixing and 5.1 surround mixing. Soundstage's audio mixes are as entertaining as the artists themselves.

The majority of the concerts are filmed before intimate studio audiences at WTTW’s Grainger Studio in Chicago, but Soundstage occasionally hits the road. Since 2001, performers have included Fleetwood Mac, Lindsey Buckingham, Lucinda Williams, Mark Knopler and Emmylou Harris, Chris Isaak, Dave Matthews Band, John Mayer, Robert Plant, Wilco, Sonic Youth, KT Tunstall, John Fogerty and countless more of today’s premiere artists.