Traffic: The Last Great Traffic Jam [DVD]

[5 March 2006]

By Jason MacNeil

There are various reasons for reunion tours. Sometimes they are a way to bring in easy cash for a band which have not been as successful on their own or, well, blew whatever savings they had and need the cash now. For others it’s a way to get together, find that chemistry again and continue on as if nothing ever happened. Then there are others that seem to be genuine reunions that do it solely because they wanted to. And for Steve Winwood and the late Jim Capaldi, Traffic’s resurrection in the ‘90s was such a case. The group released albums in the late ‘60s and early ‘70s, but returned with two of the three members in 1994 (Chris Wood died in 1983) with a new album entitled Far From Home and a highly anticipated tour. And this DVD captures some of the band’s finest tracks interspersed with brief but telling clips of life on the road during the duration of that tour.

Capaldi died in 2005 and Winwood has dedicated this DVD to his longtime musical associate and friend. And it seems to capture the magic of both the band and that partnership. From the opening notes of “Pearly Queen”, Winwood and Capaldi, backed by a fine supporting cast including one-time Traffic bassist Rosko Gee, the images are not what you would expect on many of today’s DVD releases. Not everything is as slick and produced perfectly. What you get is at times less-than-perfect images blended with some bizarre trippy, psychedelic like effects. Nonetheless, the music seems to speak for itself. The funky, groove of “Pearly Queen” is highlighted by a big, burly man dancing like he doesn’t know Woodstock is over. He is also the same man I think I’ve had the misfortune of sitting near at several Toronto area concerts, or maybe his twin…

Winwood is front and center throughout several of these winding, rock/funk/soul tunes, coming off like the British version of Santana from time to time. “Medicated Goo” comes off like a quasi-Clapton track that shows Winwood’s unique and distinct Brit soul, making it seem as if he could sing the yellow pages without missing a step. Horns are added here while more hippie-tinged montages are sprinkled throughout. And while the live renditions are strong, the videos are sometimes parts of performances, as the Latin-flavored “Mozambique” contains some snippets of the song during sound check. Even a flute doesn’t diminish the overall effect. After dedicating “40,000 Men” to Chris Wood, the group nails “Glad” from their 1970 record John Barleycorn Must Die. This is a very winding and complex ditty that goes from Latin into a Southern boogie without any abrupt changes. Add in a soft, jazz element and you have one challenging track with fine results.

While there is a lot of music, perhaps the friendship between Winwood and Capaldi is shown more in the behind-the-scenes instances, whether it is Capaldi rapping or wearing fake boobs backstage or scenes of Capaldi and Winwood shooting the breeze as the tour bus rolls on. Some of these however seem like they are completely out of left field. For example, a cattle auction on a television is shown after “Glad”, which seems to make no sense at all. Nonetheless, “Walking in the Wind” seems to match music with visuals greatly, as snippets of the road are shown from start to finish. Perhaps the highlight out of all the 11 songs here (although on the live album or CD release there are 22 tracks) has to be “The Low Spark of High Heeled Boys” which lasts 15 minutes. Moody at the beginning before picking up steam, Winwood starts stomping with his piano and then veers back and forth between piano and horns, making it a rather interesting track.

Another highlight is “Light Up Or Leave Me Alone” that shows the sweat-soaked Capaldi (as shown in a moment where he’s wringing his shirt out backstage) wailing away on the tambourine. Capaldi comes off like a raspier Joe Cocker if that’s possible on this effort. Perhaps the oddest effort though comes with a guest appearance from the late Jerry Garcia. Garcia, who here doesn’t look his best, seems out of place and is adding some riffs far off in the distance during “Dear Mr. Fantasy”. Fortunately Capaldi and Winwood are able to nail the song in spite of the Grateful Dead guitarist. Winwood then performs “John Barleycorn (Must Die)” alone on acoustic guitar before the nearly two-hour show wraps up with another fan favorite “Gimme Some Lovin’”. The DVD and the performances are very good, and it seems appropriate that it was released as a last hurrah for the group and Winwood’s late friend.

Published at: http://www.popmatters.com/pm/review/traffic-lastgreatdvd/