May 2, 3, 5, and 6, 2005. A momentous date for thousands of baby boomers, and young fans alike, who gathered at the Royal Albert Hall in London to witness history being made-rather, history being replayed. Onstage were three lads, graying and mellowed with age, but nevertheless some of the three most influential musicians of the revolutionary 60s. Cream is often touted as the world’s first supergroup, and their reunion in mid 2005 transports us back to the heyday of radical youth and rabid psychedelia.
With the musical genius of Jack Bruce, the smooth, flawless execution of Eric “Slowhand” Clapton and the creative, unyielding beats of Ginger Baker, Cream shocked the musical scene of the ’60s. The first group to take the power trio to unimaginable heights, they experimented with jazz-rock progressions and psychedelic compositions, becoming notorious for their extended solos and impromptu jam sessions. Cream only lasted together for three years, because the ambitions and capabilities of each member easily exceeded that of the group, but they’ve produced a catalog of material that has far outlasted their tenure and elevated them to god-like status among fans and fellow musicians.
The Cream reunion concerts show the finesse of each musician, and it is quite surprising to see how at ease each of them is with the music, considering they haven’t played together for more than a quarter century. Throughout the concert, it feels like they haven’t stopped playing together at all, and it only shows their expert musicianship. The 2 DVD set contains select performances from the four dates they played at the Royal Albert Hall, which includes most of the hits, standards and a few lesser known numbers from the Cream catalogue.
The group opens up with I’m So Glad, followed by some traditional blues numbers like Spoonful, Outside Woman Blues, Rollin’ and Tumblin’, and Born Under A Bad Sign. Cream originals aren’t in any shortage, and the trio take on N.S.U., Badge, Sweet Wine, We’re Going Wrong, and the more unconventional selection Pressed Rat and Warthog. Of course, the show wouldn’t be complete without their most legendary hits, including their fiery remake of Crossroads, White Room and Sunshine Of Your Love.
The trio blazes through extended solos with as much finesse as you can expect from musical legends, but it will certainly help you appreciate the show better if you remind yourself that it’s taking place in 2005 and Bruce, Clapton and Baker aren’t the young, fiery lads they once were. If you’re an avid fan of 60’s Cream, then on your first listen, you’d certainly notice the lack of intensity in their songs compared to the way they performed them before. Today, they’ve considerably mellowed and the music isn’t as powerful or gripping as in their youth, but they brave through the extended solos with the flair and sophistication that only age can bring.
They may not exude the raw, primal sound that initially attracted their fan base, but they still have the musical touch. In the blues numbers, Clapton’s playing shines through and the solos are packed with more melodic, emotional punches rather than soaring, angry barrages. Particularly moving are his performances of Outside Woman Blues and Stormy Monday. Bruce still exudes his command of the stage, and he entertains the audience wildly as he gives his whimsical rendition of the Muddy Waters classic Rollin’ and Tumblin’ the feel of an old-fashioned hoedown.
The Hall comes alive as he pipes into his harmonica while Clapton and Baker seem to be enjoying themselves as much as anyone else. Ginger Baker himself gets his moment in the spotlight as he performs Toad, that electrifying extended drum solo that makes the audience wonder how the man ever manages to catch his breath. He shows that though he may not be as ginger-haired as before, he’s still got a few slick beats up his sleeve.
During the credits, there’s a dubbed in audio interview of the trio, where they share their thoughts on their recent performances, their view of their accomplishments and the days leading up to the reunion concerts. Overall, this is an excellent buy, and very few other performances can ever match the glamour and intensity of a performance by three rock legends.
It’s a delight to see Bruce, Baker and Clapton having so much fun onstage, playing like three old friends who’ve come together again after a long absence. And it has been a long time. This DVD shows us the stuff of legends. While Cream 2005 is a far cry from the Cream of the 1960’s, it will certainly go down as a gem in the history of rock gods.