Eric Clapton and Steve Winwood clearly elevate each other’s performances throughout Live From Madison Square Garden. This live recording, a set list heavy on blues and vintage Traffic tunes intermixes crowd-pleasers like the too-obvious encore "Cocaine” as well as "After Midnight." Yet the headlining pair and their savvy accompanists refuse to indulge in mere nostalgia.
Immediately exhuming their aborted collaboration in Blind Faith, Clapton and Winwood give themselves ample time and space to play electric guitars with each other with the opening riff tune "Had to Cry Today." "Presence of the Lord" is similarly atmospheric in the contrast of Winwood’s keyboards and Clapton’s guitar and even the Buddy Holly cover from the 1969 album, Well Alright, emanates a ghostly mood of its own. It doesn’t compare to the melancholy arising from within Winwood’s distinctive voice on "Can’t Find My Way Home" though. And that, like “No Face No Name No Number,” is but fragile counterpart to the volcanic roar that erupts from him and Clapton paying homage to Jimi Hendrix on "Voodoo Chile." A similar tribute to the late guitar icon, in the form of "Little Wing," is rife with the churning emotion the likes of which also permeates Derek & The Dominos’ "Tell The Truth." Modern blues regularly meets the traditional form throughout the two-hours plus running time of the double-CD set as Clapton goes solo on a salty acoustic arrangement of "Ramblin’ on My Mind" and on the outtake from the Blind Faith sessions, "Sleeping in the Ground."
The bond of this whole band impresses throughout the set though. The paean to the deceased Buddy Miles, "Them Changes,” to name just one cut, is the sound of five men–including Willie Weeks on bass, Ian Thomas on drums and Chris Stainton on keyboards–exercising their camaraderie as working musicians to its fullest extent. And that’s what makes Live From Madison Square Garden worth hearing over and over.