Wednesday, October 26, 2005
This past Monday night, I was fortunate enough to be at Madison Square Garden for a rock/blues event which I probably started dreaming about when I was 13. That's awhile ago. I have had partial fulfillment of that vision by seeing Eric Clapton several times in the interim, most recently last year. But to see the original hard rock band, I figured, was a dream that would likely go unfulfilled.
Let's start with this. It's weird to see old guys rockin'. I saw the Rolling Stones recently -- and they too are old -- but they act young in a way that defies their rather worn appearance. By contrast, Eric Clapton, Jack Bruce and Ginger Baker did not act like teenagers trying to rock. They acted like supremely confident, mature jazz musicians you would see play at the Blue Note downtown. At the Garden, with 18,000 people stuffed to the ceiling, it's more than a little incongruous.
So, it adds to the incongruity of the whole thing when the music rips out of the amps and just jumps on top of you. You feel like these old men must laugh out loud when they see young bands try to imitate through youthful energy what they do though sheer musical talent. The music is overwhelmingly powerful bluesrock from another time - not available today anywhere.
For those who've seen Clapton, you'll be happy to hear that he is in perfect form, elegantly playing the music which first brought him broad acclaim and elevated him to the status of rock icon alongside Jimi Hendrix. While it is true that he was held in high esteem by Blues purists for his work with John Mayall and the Bluesbreakers ("Clapton is God"), subsequent to his initiation into the business with the Yardbirds, Cream was the breakout. It is a pleasure to see him in a small band - no backup guitars or keyboards for support. Every song is merely a vehicle for his guitar playing. For the true Cream aficionado, you would be disappointed by 2 things - 1) he only played his stratocaster ("blackie") and 2) none of his solos were of equal length to some of the absurd expeditions he would go off on in his youth. They were tight, perfectly played, a joy to listen to, and too short. But if you want Clapton solos which go on longer, buy the CD's Live Cream Volume I and II, or his Hyde Park DVD (esp his I Shot the Sheriff solo, which shocks you with its emotion, and his White Room riff). They did throw in Badge, a Clapton concert staple, as the only non-Cream song (I am pretty sure).
Jack Bruce sounded like, well, himself. His voice is Cream's signature, and it was fun to hear it. It was better than you'd expect at this late date, but not as powerful as it was. What I was really impressed with was Bruce's bass playing. I doubt any bassist with whom Clapton has worked has been allowed to play at the volume and tempo with which Bruce played. It competes with Clapton's guitar. You could feel his bass in your chest and in your toenails, while Clapton's guitar was in your ears and in your face. It is a tragedy they stopped playing together in 1968. They are awesome together. Though I can imagine that there was some rivalry in their day -- "turn down yer bass ya fokker", followed by a "piss off mate" and maybe some thrown equipment -- wouldn't have shocked me.
Ginger Baker is old, really old. 67. And his body and his mind must be older. That said, his drumming was perfect - he was the structural jazzy unperpinning to the ripping sound on top. And he nailed the best solo of the night, his drum solo on Toad. Without a sweat. And it went on long. It was the conclusion to their set, and led into their Sunshine of Your Love encore.
All told, an event not to be missed if you are into this stuff and have the chance. 3 great musicians long apart reunite to play some of the music from their early adult/musicianhood. Sober. You appreciate the fact that their talent is timeless. If they decided to just put together a blues-only CD as Clapton did a few years ago and go on tour, it would be fantastic to see. Some of the old Cream songs are tired -- I would have done without I'm So Glad, Sleepytime and Pressed Rat and Warthog. But the songs every Cream fan knows -- Deserted Cities of the Heart, Tales of Brave Ulysses, Politician, White Room and Sunshine of Your Love -- stand up to time well. And some songs many don't know, that are more like blues standards -- Spoonful. Born Under a Bad Sign, NSU -- still flow naturally from the instruments and sound extraordinary.
Let's hope they do some more.
CP, thanks for putting this up. I am supremely envious. I remember very clearly the first time I heard Strange Brew, the opening cut on Disreali Gears. It changed my conception of music forever. The "live" disc of Wheels of Fire has long been one of my favorites, and I have longed to see Cream perform Spoonful. Somehow I must have missed the fact that the band had reunited to tour (and if you'd asked I would have said that Ginger Baker was dead).
As to the recording of Badge on "Goodbye Cream", you must know the rhythm guitarist credited as L'Angelo Misterioso was in fact George Harrison. Every time I've heard that song over the last 30+ years, I am convinced Harrison was an uncredited co-writer with Clapton. The boys not only had great music in common, they had Patti Boyd in common too. Hummina Hummina.