Last Great Traffic Jam [DVD]

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In 1994, Steve Winwood and Jim Capaldi temporarily put aside their solo careers to re-form as Traffic for the first time in 20 years. (Of the original quartet formed in 1967, erstwhile member Dave Mason had not been a part of the band since 1971, and Chris Wood had died in 1983.) They recorded a new album, Far from Home, and embarked on a five-month tour of the U.S. in the spring and summer, using a backup band consisting of reed player Randall Bramblett, bassist Rosko Gee (a member of the 1974 version of Traffic), guitar and keyboard player Mike McEvoy, and percussionist Walfredo Reyes, Jr. Also taken along was filmmaker Simon Vieler, whose efforts finally see the light of day 11 years later in this, his 102-minute documentary of the tour, The Last Great Traffic Jam. Vieler, who is also the only credited cameraman on the film, has chosen to emphasize Traffic's ties to the hippie milieu and the jam band community, which may be appropriate given that a handful of the tour's 75-plus dates found the group opening for the Grateful Dead (including shows at Soldier Field in Chicago, RFK Stadium in Washington, D.C., and Giants Stadium in New Jersey, with Jerry Garcia sitting in on "Dear Mr. Fantasy" at the last) and that Woodstock '94 was on the itinerary. But it isn't just the long-haired freaks and tie-dyed T-shirts in the audience that Vieler chooses to focus on. He attempts visual equivalents of the psychedelic jazz-rock sound of the band, using multiple film stocks, a variety of visual effects, quick cutting, and a combination of on-stage, backstage, and travel footage. Each of the 11 songs is heard in full, with much of the playing seen, but it is heavily intercut with other material. In a three-minute music video, such an approach would be eye-catching, but it is wearying over the course of more than an hour and a half. Still, the band performs well, and Capaldi in particular likes to mug for the camera, while bandleader Winwood, despite being the most photogenic person in the film, never seems to be hogging the spotlight, even when he's occupying it, which is most of the time. [The DVD package also includes a bonus CD EP, "Traffic from the Archives," containing rehearsal performances of three songs. The CD unlocks video footage of the songs available on Winwood's website.]

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