The album exudes extraordinary clarity–a virtue frequently absent from live recordings, especially those of a certain “stoned” generation. I believe the music is better now than it was back then. It’s grounded and imprinted with the confidence of two musicians who led a generation into and through the beginnings of an era that continues to influence the development and destination of musical style.
The tunes are very fine. I think they capture the spirit and style of originality and musical excellence with far more confidence than their earlier days. The critic in me has a pretty darn difficult time in finding flaws here ( except No Face, No Name, No Number somewhat lacks the vocal quality it used to have). Clapton’s slow hand axe and Winwood’s burning keyboard chops were meant to come together in these songs. No one else could ever sound like that together. If I could just borrow from Dan Fogelberg and Tim Weisberg for a moment, Clapton and Winwood are certainly the “twin sons of different mothers” in the true musical interpretation of the phrase.
If anyone doubts that some things were meant to be, go back to those older recordings of Presence of the Lord and Can’t Find My Way Back Home and compare them to this new live album. No one could deny that time, the force of music, and life itself designed Winwood and Clapton to be together again.
As a musician myself, I recognize what an extraordinary phenomenon it is to hear something musically “meant to be.” I haven’t always appreciated this; but now having lived long enough, perhaps (still just a few years younger than Eric and Steve), I understand how some musicians bring out the ultimate excellence in each other. I understand how extraordinary it is for that kind of experience to happen, and the result raises the bar in musical performance.
Live at Madison Square Garden is a keeper. I’ll be listening to it for a long time; not because it takes me back to the days of youth, but because it speaks to me in a unique language I’m privileged to recognize.