Steve Winwood has a music history that reaches back half a century, encompassing such bands as the Spencer Davis Group, Traffic and Blind Faith, along with his solo career. So it may have seemed to strange to fans in this era of career retrospectives that he would turn up at Carnegie Music Hall Friday night with a set list of a dozen songs.
The 65-year-old Rock and Roll Hall of Famer is on tour opening for Rod Stewart while doing a handful of spinoff theater dates such as this one.
Rather than offer the complete hit-filled revue, Mr. Winwood is catering to the more hard-core music fan with some classics and recent songs that give him and his band open spaces to jam. He established that early on with a soulful and relaxed version of Traffic's "Rainmaker," guided by flute.
This was an unconventional combo with a guitarist, a drummer, a percussionist, a sax/flute man and, of course, Mr. Winwood at the keyboard, dressed casually in flannel. They managed to groove without a bassist, creating a smooth but highly rhythmic sound suitable for a jazz club. He let a lot of the action come from the percussive side of the stage.
A half-hour into the set, they were on the fourth song, having also done a sax-driven "Fly" from his most recent album, "Nine Lives," and an organ-powered "I'm a Man" that serves as a true test of his pipes.
Mr. Winwood has the unenviable task of reproducing songs sung in a high register when he was a virtual teenager. Taking the front of the stage on guitar, he pushed through Blind Faith's "Can't Find My Way Home," managing to find most of the notes, and bringing the fans to their feet.
With this band's treatment, another new song, "Dirty City," sounded like it could have come from that vintage era, and it was capped by one of a few shredding Winwood guitar jams (yes, he's not just a piano man).
He allotted ample time for the exquisitely funky "Glad" to dip into "Low Spark of High Heeled Boys" stretch out as a long psychedelic, jazz-rock/prog-rock centerpiece. It was followed, as it is on the classic Traffic album, by the frenetic groove of "Light Up or Leave Me Alone."
The one concession to his slicker '80s pop era was the set-closing "Higher Love." That may have left some people disappointed, but it's hard to walk out of a concert hall disappointed when you just saw the man who originally sang "Dear Mr. Fantasy" and "Gimme Some Lovin'" (the ultimate encore closer) tearing into those rock 'n' roll treasures with everything he's got.
Mr. Winwood isn't a big talker, but he did graciously thank his fans for coming out in such bad weather. Seemed as if the pleasure was ours.