Steve Winwood’s most recent studio album, from 2008, was titled “Nine Lives.” It was apt commentary on the Brit rocker’s remarkably long and boundary-busting career. Over the course of almost five decades in the business, the singer-songwriter-musician transitioned from teenage R&B prince with the Spencer Davis Group to psychedelic fantasist with Traffic to solo adult contemporary hitmaker and Latin jazz-world beat enthusiast.
Saturday night Winwood, whether spitting out thick chunks of sultry organ riffage or teasing out intricate guitar solos, stretched out in all of those directions — though some much further than others — for a tasteful performance at the Bank of America Pavilion that drew repeated ovations from an audience open to whatever he and his remarkably precise four-man band had to offer.
Stretching out was the operative phrase as the lion’s share of the 12-song, 100-minute set was devoted to lengthy jams of Traffic classics, including a majestic “Empty Pages” and the seductive ebbs and flows of “The Low Spark of High Heeled Boys,” which highlighted Jose Neto’s virtuosic spider vein guitar soloing. An epic, almost 15-minute version of “Light Up or Leave Me Alone” included that grand anachronism, a drum solo, from impeccable timekeeper Richard Bailey. An encore of “Dear Mr. Fantasy” featured real guitar bite and percussive backbone.
The delicate Blind Faith classic “Can’t Find My Way Home” was an early high that proved Winwood’s inimitable croon is in fine form and one of many instances in which reeds-vocals-keyboard utility player Paul Booth proved himself the band’s secret weapon. Two Spencer Davis Group tracks – “I’m a Man” and “Gimme Some Lovin’ ” — pulsated with classic rock energy.
Winwood sang just four tunes from his solo career proper, three from “Nine Lives,” including the smooth jazz-y “Fly” and the bluesy, slow burner “Dirty City,” and only a single song from his ’80s commercial peak, the buoyant “Higher Love.”
Judging by the rapturous response to that last track a few more songs from that era would have been welcome.
Michael Franti & Spearhead opened with a set of complementary spirit, bouncing through anthems of positivity including the bouncy hit “Say Hey (I Love You).”