2005 was a great year for Classic Rock fans. God-awful Superbowl performance aside, the Stone's did launch yet another sold out tour, Queen recruited ex Free/Bad Company shrieker Paul Rogers, Pete Townsend announced his plans to tour once again with The Who, and Neil Young and Deep Purple effortlessly banished the shroud of impending age with great new albums. But bigger than this, perhaps bigger even then Roger Waters playing a set with Pink Floyd for the first time in over twenty five years, was Cream's reunion.
Though they were together scarcely more than two years, Cream left us with a legacy that is impossible to forget. They were the first true 'rock 'n roll supergroup.' The combination of the massive bass sound and bluesy vocals of Jack Bruce, the powerful drumming of Ginger Backer, and a young, brash Eric Clapton on guitar would create a musical ensemble few have challenged, let alone surpassed. Though their studio work was strong, it was in a live setting that Cream really took off. Though rarely thought of as a jam band, Cream's jams remain as some of the greatest ever recorded (just listen to their infamous rendition of Willie Dixie's Spoonful
on the live disk of Wheels of Fire
and you'll agree.) So its quite a surprise to learn that Cream broke up a mere three years after they first formed. After Cream, Clapton obviously went on to great success in Blind Faith (were he was joined by Baker) Derek and the Dominoes, and his solo work. Though Baker and Bruce never broke back into the mainstream again, they remained active musicians.
For whatever reason, Cream chose to reunite just last year, and play a total of seven gigs, four at the Royal Albert Hall, and three at Madison Square Garden. As with any reunion, no one could deny the tremendous questions of "could they pull it off", "would they be to old", etc. And quite fortunately, the answer is a resounding "YES!" Of course, its not like the group is still twenty. Ginger Backer looks near seventy, but is clearly having a great time behind his kit, and there's no denying that the man hasn't lost a thing. Jack Bruce is often seen leaning against a high chair, but his bass is as monstrous as ever. And Clapton finally breaks out of the mold he's dug himself into as of late, shattering the 'complacent rock star' image, delivering fiery performances on the dime.
There is one major flaw, though, and that is the groups vocal ability. Though never known for it, Bruce possessed a great voice back in the day, and could also harmonize with Clapton very well. With the onset of age, neither singers are what they once were. But honestly, I don't really care if Bruce's voice isn't as strong as it once was, because as long as he plays his bass, then I'm happy, and play his bass he does.
Old Cream standards like Spoonful
, with its bluesy licks and signature chemistry between Clapton's wailing guitar and Bruce's thumping bass, N.S.U.
with its pounding drums and catchy chorus, or the energetic opener I'm So Glad
sound truly inspired. The band also aires out quite a few songs which never quite made it as live staples (often because they were simply released to soon before the disbanded.) The sleazy riff of Politician
, the psychedelia of Sleepy Time Time
or We're Going Wrong
and a surprise cover of T Bone Walker's working man's anthem Stormy Monday
all get the deluxe treatment from Clapton's guitar. Sceptic of the man will easily be won over by his emotive improv.
The setlist on a whole, in fact, is superbly picked, though there are a few glaring omissions (I Feel Free, Strange Brew, Tales of Brave Ulysses, or SWABLR anyone?) Jack Bruce gets his harmonica workout on Rolling and Tumbling
with its energetic verses and upbeat tempo. And for the first time ever, the band plays Badge
in a live setting. And like just about every Cream concert, Ginger Baker gets his signature solo spot with a ten minute rendition of Toad
which show that even in his sixties, the fire is still very much Mr. Baker's heart. One disappointment, though, is the rendition of the band's signature song Crossroads
, based loosely around two Robert Johnson songs. The band chooses to slow down the tempo, which means that it looses something of the edge it once had. White Room
sounds excellent, however, even with Clapton opting for a wah-less solo. And also not surprisingly, they choose to encore with the megahit Sunshine of Your Love
, which, while well performed, actually doesn't strike me as a highlight.
Despite a few misgivings, this album is a must for Cream fans. For one, its the only complete live album the band has issued (Cream's live legacy has since come from the second disk of Wheels of Fire
, two patchwork live compilations, and a host of bootlegs.) Though the playing on here may not be quite up to par with any of the fiery performances on some of the bootlegs I own, its still better than almost anything most jam bands can pull off.