Though he's dabbled in a variety of musical genres, Steve Winwood is perhaps best known for his very commercial but effective adult contemporary style that led to several hits in the 1980s, including the popular "Higher Love." A talented and very accomplished musician and master of several instruments, Winwood's easy listening tempos and unique vocals make for a solid but not particularly stimulating concert experience. While there are some strong tracks in 'Steve Winwood: Live,' the relatively brief running time and limited song selection do hold the show back from really standing out.
Shot in 2004 as an episode of the long running 'Soundstage' series, the concert is a fairly laidback affair with Winwood taking center stage, backed by a small band. The musician mostly alternates between guitar and piano, while providing his distinct vocals throughout. There are no breaks between performances and the concert is a very straightforward show with simple, standard coverage and lighting design giving us many views of the band and audience. The setlist only features seven songs, consisting of a mixture of old hits and new tracks from his then recent album, "About Time." The tracks performed include "Can't Find My Way Back Home," "Empty Pages," "Bully," "Glad," "Freedom Rider," "Back in the High Life Again," "Dear Mr. Fantasy," and "Why Can't We Live Together."
Winwood has a decent, very comfortable stage presence, and the British rocker looks perfectly at ease in the spotlight. His band is made up of similarly middle-aged men who bob their heads to the gentle rhythms while accompanying Winwood with a variety of instruments including drums, bongos, a saxophone, and even a flute. Despite the talent involved, the songs tend to sound very similar and ultimately start to blur into one another. While the crowd cheers at the start of every new track, clearly in celebration of recognizing the commencing song, I must admit that I didn't and with only two exceptions I really wasn't familiar with the music played here. With that said, the adult contemporary style certainly has merit, but with little variance between the tracks, the easy listening atmosphere grows rather boring, and the music can seem pretty generic at times. Thankfully, there are moments of excitement toward the end, and Winwood tends to be the most engaging when he gets up from the piano and starts strumming his guitar. Performances of "Back in the High Life Again" and "Dear Mr. Fantasy" (the only two tracks I recognized) are particularly effective, with the latter injecting some much needed life into the proceedings by offering a nice up-tempo break from the mostly midrange affair.
I wasn't terribly familiar with Steve Winwood before watching this concert and while I definitely think the man is talented, as presented here, his music is bit too generic and middling for my tastes. With such a small selection of very similar sounding songs, the performances lack diversity and excitement. As far as filmed concerts go, this is about as basic and straightforward as you can get (which isn't necessarily a bad thing). Even so, I was entertained by a few tracks and the music is always decent, it's just not very memorable or unique. Admittedly my unfamiliarity with the artist and lack of an affinity toward his style definitely limit my potential enthusiasm for this disc, but I do think that fans of the musician will probably find a lot to like, though the fairly short running time (fifty five minutes) might put off more casual admirers.
The Blu-ray: Vital Disc Stats
Image presents 'Steve Winwood: Live' on a single BD-25 disc that comes housed in a standard keepcase. After some logos and warnings, the disc transitions to a basic menu. The packaging indicates that the concert is region A, B, and C compatible.
The concert is presented in a 1080i/AVC MPEG-4 transfer in the 1.78:1 aspect ratio. Shot digitally in high definition, the video is decent but does suffer from some noticeable artifacting.
The image has a sharp quality but fine details are indistinct and there is rarely any sense of actual depth. Colors offer some pleasing warm and cool hues as the stage is bathed in various alternating lights. Black levels are consistent and overall contrast is good. Unfortunately, there is some noticeable compression noise, slight blocking, and sporadic aliasing visible from time to time. While not ideal, the artifacts are relatively minor and certainly don't ruin the presentation.
Like many music discs of this type, 'Steve Winwood: Live' has a pretty average but perfectly acceptable appearance. There are some technical issues, but the disc looks fine regardless.
The show is provided with a DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 track and an uncompressed PCM 2.0 track. While not quite up there with the best concert discs, both mixes should please fans of the musician with solid separation and fidelity.
Vocals are mostly clean but do have a slightly muddled quality that may simply be a result of Winwood's unique voice. Music cues and instruments are spread around the soundstage fairly well but separation isn't always as distinct as I would have liked. Dynamics are good though many of the songs tend to hover around in the midrange. With that said, some tracks ("Dear Mr. Fantasy," in particular) do provide more variety and present some mild thump in the low end. Rear activity is mostly reserved for some faint crowd reactions and by and large the differences between the 2.0 and 5.1 track aren't as substantial as many other concert discs.
Though the mix doesn't exactly wow with a totally enveloping wall of sound, the audio does a respectful job of presenting the concert. With nice fidelity and sporadic bits of immersion, the disc definitely sounds good.