What does it sound like?:
There can’t be many bands whose stock as a live band has fallen quite as far as Cream’s; you only have to look at the comments (and, mostly, lack of enthusiasm) on my original post about this set to illustrate how a band once considered one of the greatest live acts is now viewed with indifference bordering on derision. The received wisdom is one of interminable blues/rock jams with 20 minute drum solos for good measure. Neatly, Mrs. T, just this minute, asked what I was doing, and when I told her she pulled a face and commented that the whole thing must be just boring extended jamming. If I play Cream at home, it is the studio cuts that go on the CD player, and I have never owned the Live Cream or Live Cream II albums, and I’m a huge fan, so what does that say, and is the received wisdom true..?
The background – it is worth remembering they were actually only playing together for a little over 2 years, but it is well documented that Clapton was fed up with the band (and, it has to said, he had previous on this with both the Yardbirds and John Mayall), and the tensions between Baker and Bruce were spilling over onto the stage, where it is even reported that the volume from Jack’s Marshalls in the end meant that Ginger simply couldn’t hear himself play. They had taken it as far as they could, and Clapton’s head had been turned by hearing The Band. It has to be said that others did pick up the mantle – Hendrix was no stranger to the extended solo, and Led Zeppelin would take the drums/bass/guitar format and run with it, so maybe this wasn’t quite the dead end it seems in retrospect..?
Personally, I clearly remember as an 18 year old that the news they were splitting up was devastating, but we would get a final tour.
Cream’s “farewell tour” consisted of 22 shows at 19 venues in the US from 4 October to 4 November 1968, and two final farewell concerts at the Royal Albert Hall on 25 and 26 November 1968. I was at the show on 25th, which I believe from memory was an additional show added when 26th show sold out. I was sat up behind the stage, and I remember just being happy to be there. The support acts were Taste, who were well received, and Yes, who weren’t. It is the show of 26th which features in the film of the event, and is on CD 4 here.
So what we get is four (presumably) complete shows. A handful of tracks have appeared before – three on Goodbye Cream, three on Live Cream II and one appeared on the Life In 12 Bars set, but the rest is all previously unreleased. The show from the Royal Albert Hall is the same as the filmed release, but this is the first audio only version.
I admit I approached this with some trepidation…for instance, how many versions of Toad do you really need to listen to? The first surprise is that the running times of most of the tracks is around 4 to 7 minutes (20), with 10 at 8 to 12 mins and only a surprising 5 clocking in longer, so this isn’t quite the experience I was expecting.
The only available way to review this was via a stream on my computer, so not an ideal or my usual way of listening. I have no access to the packaging or book, although I have to say it looks like an attractive set from the pictures online. My first impression is that the sound seems astonishingly good, even through a pair of crappy little speakers on my desk – the drumming across the soundstage is very impressive, and Eric’s guitar is crisp and clear. The different song versions are surprisingly varied – for instance, the version of Crossroads on Disc 1 is quite slow and more bluesy (more like Clapton’s later versions), but on the later tour dates it is more like the speeded up well known live version from Wheels Of Fire. As a concert, the San Diego concert is my favourite – White Room sparkles and I’m So Glad is one of Jack’s best vocals and a terrific solo, for instance – but the playing in all the concerts is never less than excellent. The exception is Disc 4 where the sound is that of a good bootleg – listenable, but nowhere near as good as Disc 1-3. The vocals are very echoey and the drumming muffled compared to the other concerts – a shame, because I would have expected modern technology to have enabled better.
What about those interminable solos..? Well….I am here to tell you that they are mostly just fine to these ears, much more so than I was expecting and, as I say above, there are fewer than you might imagine; the 17.27 version of Spoonful on Disc 2 is stunning, however the Disc 3 version does meander a bit and sometimes I do think that, on balance, Clapton was right to abandon this approach – he isn’t Hendrix and doesn’t have his dynamics. I also know even a handful of long cuts isn’t everyone’s cup of tea, and I too would have gladly swapped a few of these for more variety of song choice. It is a shame that the sets are so similar – it would appear that the list became settled towards the end of the tour – but we do get a bit of variety on disc 1 (no Toad, surprisingly, but there is the drum solo in a version of Passing The Time!!). How I would have loved them to have played Tales Of Brave Ulysses, We’re Going Wrong, NSU, I Feel Free, Outside Woman Blues or Strange Brew, to name but a few.
I’m glad this has been released and will definitely enjoy it on the hifi when I get to hear it that way. It isn’t for everyone, but it captures some great and somewhat historic performances….and you can still skip Toad!
DISC ONE – OCTOBER 4, 1968 – Oakland Coliseum, Oakland (all tracks previously unreleased, except *)
1. White Room 6.19* – Live Cream II and Those Were The Days
2. Politician 5.22* – Live Cream II and Those Were The Days
3. Crossroads 3.57
4. Sunshine Of Your Love 5.35
5. Spoonful 16.47
6. Deserted Cities Of The Heart 5.26* – Live Cream II
7. Passing The Time 10.40
8. I’m So Glad 7.07
DISC TWO – OCTOBER 19, 1968 – Los Angeles Forum, Los Angeles (all tracks previously unreleased except *)
1. Introduction by Buddy Miles 1:39
2. White Room 6.53
3. Politician 6.41* – Goodbye
9. I’m So Glad 9.37* – Goodbye and Those Were The Days
10. Sitting On Top Of The World 4.53* – Goodbye and Those Were The Days
4. Crossroads 4.25
5. Sunshine Of Your Love 6.27
6. Traintime 8.11
7. Toad 12.55
8. Spoonful 17.27* – Life In 12 Bars
DISC THREE – OCTOBER 20, 1968 – San Diego Sports Arena, San Diego (all tracks previously unreleased)
1. White Room 6.42
2. Politician 6.26
3. I’m So Glad 7.53
4. Sitting On Top Of The World 5.45
5. Sunshine Of Your Love 5.13
6. Crossroads 4.13
7. Traintime 9.39
8. Toad 14.03
9. Spoonful 9.12
The Oakland Coliseum, Los Angeles Forum and San Diego Sports Arena concerts were mastered from the original 1968 analog mix reels by Kevin Reeves at Universal Mastering, Nashville, TN.
DISC FOUR – CREAM FAREWELL CONCERT NOVEMBER 26, 1968 – Royal Albert Hall, London (all tracks first-time release on CD)
1. White Room 8.02
2. Politician 6.37
3. I’m So Glad 6.53
4. Sitting On Top Of The World 5.06
5. Crossroads 5.03
6. Toad 11.22
7. Spoonful 15.47
8. Sunshine Of Your Love 8.37
9. Steppin’Out 5.02
The Royal Albert Hall concert was mastered from the original 1968 analogue transfer reels by Jason NeSmith at Chase Park Transduction, Athens, GA.
What does it all *mean*?
A fine tribute to Jack and Ginger
Goes well with…
A huge Marshall stack
Might suit people who like…