Review by John P. Farris
New York, NY, October 26, 2005, 9:30 A.M: The second show of Cream’s three Madison Square Garden concerts on their return to the U.S. ended last night around ten thirty. Loretta and I are living a rock ‘n roll fantasy having seen one of the reunion shows in London in May and then doubling back to catch them here in the Big Apple. The first show was a dream come true and this one was icing on an incredible cake.
The band’s historic four nights at Royal Albert Hall are now legendary and captured brilliantly on DVD and CD with assorted good-quality bootlegs available too. Most fans have seen or heard some of the music but to see them live twice in two great cities was an honor and a treat. Getting the tickets and making the arrangements for the New York gig was easier than the first reunion shows in London. With an office in New York and friends and colleagues who wanted to go, this trip was a team effort for us (and a business trip as well – our office is two blocks from the Garden and our usual hotel is across the street!).
We didn’t really know what to expect in London and the moment was truly special as previously reported here. This time we had the vivid memories of the first show and had been listening to a bootleg (courtesy of CJ) since we returned home in May. We had also seen the DVD a couple of times, which is of the highest production value in both sight and sound (go buy it). As expected, in New York the show didn’t vary much from the London gigs – almost the same set list in the same order. This was of no concern to me as I would have loved to have gone to more than one show at Albert Hall to capture more of the electricity. This time though some of the mystery was gone for us in seeing Cream again, the fun included just being there with a New York crowd wearing tee-shirts from the first shows.
The DVD includes interviews with each member individually and one thing struck me from the discussion with Ginger Baker. He said every night was special for him because Eric Clapton plays a different lead each time he does the songs and he never knows what to expect. That thought struck me last night after the first few songs as Eric picked different songs to light up than he did in London. In fact, I thought the set started slowly with a standard and not so remarkable "I’m So Glad", "Spoonful" and "Outside Woman Blues". I began to believe that the New York Times and Daily Mail critics were right (horrors) in their reviews of the first night’s show when the writers said, that while delivering a satisfying show, the band was "mellow" and lacking in improvisation and any of the jamming of the psychedelic blues band of the Sixties. After seeing the London gig, I really took issue with the comparisons to the Cream of our youth. It’s been over thirty-five years and the only drugs these guys are on are organ transplant anti-rejection drugs and vitamins. I actually met somebody in New York who, when told we were going to a Cream concert, thought some band members were deceased!
In reality, the shows in London were stellar with Eric driving the bus and Jack Bruce and Ginger playing solidly and much stronger than anticipated. Therefore, I didn’t expect "mellow" and would only compare them to themselves from five months ago. What happened last night was, from my perspective, the result of a group of guys who had become more comfortable with each other after the years of not playing together, putting previous personal acrimony behind them after so long and running on the confidence of a very successful run of shows. In short, they were just warming up with the first few songs. Ginger delighted the crowd with their most unusual song "Pressed Rat and Wart Hog" (one of Loretta’s personal favorites) and then the fireworks began. The next song was "Tales of Brave Ulysses", a hit and fan favorite from Disraeli Gears, and a new song for New York that was not performed in London. In fact the papers reported that Eric said that "Tales" had never been performed live until Monday night! This was a treat for those of us who remember (part) of the Sixties and love the wah-wah sound that Eric and Jimi had patented. You know it’s something special when the camera for the video screens focus in on a shot of Eric’s right foot. (There were no screens at Albert Hall.) Eric let it rip and the crowd went nuts.
People talk about a New York audience and you have to be there to appreciate it. It’s based on enthusiasm for great performances and New Yorkers know how to show it (of course they can give it too if the performance is bad). I’ve been to Yankee games in New York and saw Clapton’s band last year at the Garden but I really didn’t experience the appreciation a Big Apple crowd can deliver until last night. The crowd really was rowdy and loud from the beginning and kept it up for all the high points of the show. Of course, there were almost twice as many people in attendance from the Albert Hall shows due to the difference in capacity of the two venues, and the booze was flowing in the Garden as champagne and beer was continuously brought down by vendors and soaked up or spilled by the crowd (at show’s end I was standing in a puddle of cascading liquid from the rows above). Jack Bruce told the crowd at one point that "New York is the greatest audience in the world".
I could feel the intensity level of the music increase after "Tales" and the next several songs featured searing solos by Eric – "Sleepy Time Time", "N.S.U." and "Badge" were all winners. Things slowed down somewhat for "Politician" and though Jack was in fine vocal form you had to ignore what he looks like. I had asked our friends (who sat in another section) for sound bites after the show and Trish said she thought Jack was singing strong but couldn’t hit the high notes anymore (and neither could Eric) and Ellen commented that it was great to listen to Jack but she had to close her eyes and not look at him to get into the songs.
Things picked up again as Eric extended and bent strings on a sweet "Sweet Wine" and Ginger and Jack created a rhythm showcase on "Rollin’ and Tumblin’". This was a highlight in London also where Jack can still play with energy on harp and he and Ginger bring that locomotive of bass and drums through the room (the way the do on "Traintime" on Wheels of Fire). Next was the much anticipated "Stormy Monday", not a traditional Cream song but one that Eric used to do way back with John Mayall’s Bluesbreakers. In my opinion "Stormy" was the unexpected pinnacle of the Albert Hall shows. The night we went in London (on Thursday, the third of the four shows) Clapton was phenomenal on this tune. In fact the producers used the Thursday night version on the DVD, so it was going to be hard to top or even equal that performance in New York. Eric didn’t disappoint and the people around us, our friends and the crowd at large loved the soloing but in my opinion he didn’t match the London performance. At this point I realized I’m biased but I do think the band had a sharper edge in London in front of the "home" crowd. There can only be one "first reunion".
That’s not to say; however, that some of the New York performance didn’t outshine London. I thought the version of "Crossroads" smoked last night where it only smoldered the first time, and Eric’s leads with driving rhythm by Jack and Ginger on "Deserted Cities of the Heart" and "We’re Going Wrong" were particularly strong and inventive. "White Room" and "Sitting on Top of The World" were also memorable. Our friend John who had seen Cream in the Sixties at Fillmore East said they were "inspirational".
At this juncture it must be stated that this isn’t just an Eric Clapton band (and it never was). In fact when they started, Eric was the junior member and Jack and Ginger were considered the driving forces behind the band and the best on their respective instruments at the time (the "cream" of the crop). While Eric drives the show today, Ginger Baker is still a force of nature. Yes, he’s well over sixty and had his physical and legal problems but Mr. Peter Edward Baker is one bad-ass drummer. In London it appeared that he was hurting, as I frequently saw him shake out his wrists after most songs and his solos were nothing like the frenetic pounding that he did over thirty years ago. Last night though he really used his featured tune "Toad" to let the New York crowd know he still had it. In his interview he said he always played better for a larger crowd and it seemed to me he got stronger from May to October because this "Toad" brought back Wheels of Fire memories with a blistering sustained attack on the drums that had them roaring. I confirmed his power with opinions from our friends. This was the master at work.
The show closed with a "Sunshine of Your Love" encore and everybody went home happy. Unlike the British crowd who sat in their seats for the whole show except for standing ovations after songs, the New York crowd on the floor stood for the whole performance and several people were drinking and talking throughout the show. The British fans (though there were many Americans at the London gigs) were well behaved and frowned on rowdiness. I left with the opinion that in London people were there to really hear the music and in New York they were there to have a good time.
We sat in the upper balcony in London and in New York we were on the floor in the last section behind the sound board. In most arenas in the States this is a bad seat because you are on the same level as the rest of the crowd on the floor in the back, but in the Garden, they install a seating riser so that the rear section goes up to the permanent seats. This proved to be a great place to be because while we had to stand we could easily see over the crowd on the floor. We had the added advantage of having room to move around and we could see the computer monitors for the psychedelic light show that was projected behind the band. The light show was very well done and quite similar to the London gigs but it seemed like they changed some of the patterns for the better.
Now there’s talk of more shows in selected cities in the States. The marketing guys know what they are doing (if not completely forthcoming) as they said at the time that the London shows were "they only appearance of Cream a onetime reunion. The New York shows were billed as "the only North American appearance" – yeah sure.
If they do go out on the road and you get a chance to see them, by all means go. In thinking about writing this it occurred to me that the only place you can hear many of these songs is at a Cream show – N.S.U., Sleepy Time Time, Sweet Wine, Tales of Brave Ulysses and Toad are not covered by other bands to my knowledge and they are all special. My friend Bob said "they breathed life into old songs". I would add "spectacularly" to that statement and I think that sums it up.
Review by Daniel Tsang
Just got back from the show… Was it just me, or was the guitar louder tonight? Were the solos more "together" tonight? Was that drum solo in Toad even tighter than the night before?? It looks like after the opening night jitters, the boys came in like gangbusters. I swear, the guitar amp was turned on louder, or EC just played with more conviction. The notes coming off the guitar were crisper, more sustained.
A few highlights: EC took charge tonight. A dosage of selfishness was in him this evening (which is good)… he took more time with his solos and really bent those strings. Every song, he delivered a better solo than the last.
Crossroads: Much better pace than last night (the pacing last night, compared to tonight, was more like a waltz). Either Ginger or EC started the beat fast, and the song sounded better because of it. I’m glad they picked up the pace… EC has been doing it as a slower blues tune in recent years. As well, the two solos were head and shoulders better than last night… absolutely blistering fast solos – they obviously don’t match the majestic beauty of that live album recording (what can?), but it’s still one of the best Crossroads I’ve seen live.
Toad: Like Crossroads, there was much better pacing of the drum solo tonight. Ginger was CLEARLY in a good mood and had his groove on. He kicked started Crossroads and put that song into another gear, and he just went to town with the Toad solos.
Crowd: A tad more subdued tonight. The people on the floor (where I was) were more or less on their feet the entire night. I was disappointed in the people in the lower ring… 95% of them were sitting down the entire show. Show the boys some more respect… you guys got a hell of a show; they played so much better than last night.
Regardless of crowd reaction, I can’t wait to see how far they can take their playing tomorrow night!
Review by Rick Kent / Austin, Texas
Tuesday in Manhattan was just a crappy as hell day with consistent chilly rain. Where the hell is my umbrella?
What a night. The guy’s were just a bit more tight and together for the 2nd show. I got the same opinion from people seated all around me. I’m not the only one going to all three shows. I was surrounded by some serious and dedicated fans this show.
I read two reviews from the 1st show that mentioned Jack and Ginger having some arguments on stage so tonight I was going to keep an eye out for that. I didn’t see them having any problems the 1st show from where I was sitting. For the record I didn’t notice any problems at all the second show between Baker/Bruce. I did see that Baker/Bruce were not exchanging any laughter which they often did at every show in London.
The concert was better than anything I’ve seen from Cream. I’m on old hand at this now since I’ve seen the band six times in the space of less than 6 months. This show was a repeat of last night but tighter. This is a different band than that band I saw the first night at RAH. Every show is another dress rehearsal and produces an even better show the next time around.
Eric just is getting it better and better on Sleepy Time Time. More blues variations and stretching his legs more here. Revisiting Cream is producing a higher level of playing each time I see him play these shows. It is amazing. I’m giving high fives to the guy on my left. We are a couple of giddy blown away Cream fans.
Sweet Wine had the same incredible jam and 200% more power than RAH. Spoonful starts off with more improvisation and changes and a lot longer jam. Time gets a little distorted when you’re watching these guys so I might be off on clocking this stuff. On Pressed Rat and Warthog Ginger mentions that Pressed Rat had reopened there shop but this time he mentioned that bootlegs were for sale. A last minute ad lib I’m sure. He is still rushing the lyrics on Pressed Rat.
Tales of Brave Ulysses was SO fine. The wah-wah pedal on this one and White Room are a revelation. I watched Eric closely when his was using it. I really cannot believe I am witnessing these historical events. We are so lucky.
Stormy Monday had to be the highlight tonight. Clapton is stretching out more and more on Stormy. The guys must be encouraging each other to do longer and longer solos. Toad has been extended by at least 4 minutes and Stormy by at least 2 minutes. Clapton wrecked us good with a long solo… he was making’ it hard, eyes closed and deep into the blues. Baker and Bruce seem totally blown away by Eric. I could see their faces from my seat and they were both shaking their heads in amazement.
It was also at this point when everyone around me was lighting up joints. I was engulfed in pot smoke for the rest of the show. I do get high off secondary pot smoke so this would provide an unexpected caveat to my Cream experience.
We’re Going Wrong is great. I am not a huge fan of this number but it has a great build up towards the end and the guys seem to enjoy this song variation. With the slower pace it probably is giving them a bit of a break too.
Toad was the same long extended version from the 1st show possibly even longer by a minute. Ginger Baker is just without peer on the sticks. He’d just keep pounding the toms … it was so tribal sounding. Baker is about to do his very last Cream drum solo tomorrow night and he is making each one count.
Sunshine was killer. again and again and again. The opening riff for Sunshine gives me goose bumps each time. It takes me back to another age when I was 11 years old at the skating rink playing Cream songs on the juke box 3 for a quarter. Now it’s being done right in front of me at Madison Square Garden live. Life is good.
One more show. Maybe forever? Who knows? There are already rumors of more shows but I don’t think it’ll be soon if ever.
Review by Ken Scudder
Dear god what a show. I don’t think I’ve ever heard Eric play better than on Stormy Monday. Just amazing, amazing work. High fret work on the first solo, with blazing runs that you think can’t build any more, and then he takes it even higher.
We’re Going Wrong sounded outstanding. Jack’s voice was pure and powerful, Ginger’s tom work perfect, and Eric’s solo was tasty and fiery.
They went on about 8:35, started with a not-outstanding version of I’m So Glad. But, frankly, we didn’t care. It was Cream, they were actually in front of us playing, the first tune was as much about OUR warming up as theirs. Tales of Brave Ulysses was incredible; just to hear the song live was amazing. Eric seemed a little, dare I say, lost in the solo, but the whole effect was magic. NSU had a nice little jam at the end; not the fire and power from ’67 or so, but a more controlled free-form expansion. Crossroads was terrific, a nice middle pace between Eric’s solo tours and Wheels of Fire. I am one of those people who hates drum solos, but Ginger’s 10 min. solo on Toad was terrific. He doesn’t just pound away, he changes rhythms; my girlfriend pointed out how he was throwing in "3 against 2s" and other poly-rhythms. Great stuff. The vocal choices on Sunshine were interesting – Jack started verse one, let Eric sing the high part (which he took down a little on "wait" and "place"); the opposite of how Eric handles it in concert. Then second or third verse they switched, and Jack absolutely nailed those high notes. Just blew them out. Amazing.
A couple of sound problems – Jack’s bass should have been much, much clearer (and we were sitting just behind and to the right of the soundboard); considering how intricate his playing is (as well as being powerful) I would have liked to make it out more. His vocal mike also started a little low (and was a real problem on Rollin’ and Tumblin’), but that seemed to clear up later on. And, Ginger’s headset mike was terrible – if I didn’t know ahead of time that they were playing Pressed Hat & Warthog I would have had no idea what he was saying. Same with his post-song T-shirt pitch, thanks to whereseric.com I knew what he was saying.
Enough bitching. This was an incredible night. A rare evening where I saw a show that felt "long enough," but I still wanted a ton more. I hope we don’t have to wait another 37 years, but just to be able to see them, like this, for the first time in my life (I was 1 when they held the Farewell concert) was worth waiting for. Congrats, and thanks boys.
Review by John Soltes
Well, look I’m only 20 years old…so what am I doing attending a Cream concert, let alone trying to review it?
Well, I can tell you that Cream is influential, even in the young minds today. Their cross-section between rock, blues, and jazz are unique — and still stand, even in today’s market.
I attended Wednesday’s show, having only seen Clapton (solo) once before on his Robert Johnson tour. I had tickets behind the stage in the 200 section. Initial reaction: Awesome.
Yeah, the band needed to take a few songs to completely fall in synch with one another … but this music was meant to be taken in different directions.
"I’m So Glad" is a great opener…followed by Jack’s splendid "Spoonful"…Not many people talk about "Outside Woman Blues," but I think it is Clapton’s best vocal performance of the night (although he did leave off the twang that he had during the RAH shows)…
"Ulysses," "NSU" were great. But "Badge" and "Politician" brought down the house, at least in my section. And let’s be honest, "Badge" is the best Cream song around.
"Rollin’ and Tumblin’" was great (and loud) — does anyone notice a close similarity between this song and the beat of Clapton’s cover of Johnson’s "If I Had Possession Over Judgment Day?"
"Stormy Monday" — great. "We’re Going Wrong" — nice. "Crossroads," "White Room," and especially "Toad" were awesome. Even loved the "Sunshine" encore.
All in all, an excellent show.
Review by Rod V
What a show! I am completely exhausted and completely ‘death’! This was as good, well almost, as good as the Thursday night at the Royal Albert Hall (5/5/2005). And it was loud! Songs that were outstanding? Spoonful, Tales of Brave Ulysses, Politician, Sweet Wine, Stormy Monday, Born Under A Bad Sign, We’reGoing Wrong, Toad and Sunshine Of Your Love. A bit strange was that Eric didn’t do a solo on Sitting On Top Of The World. I don’t know if that was intentional or not. Overall a great concert! No jamming like last night, but there was more energy on stage. Last night it was Ginger who was great and tonight Jack was fabulous! Eric was not playing in the relaxed way he was playing last night and he played some fantastic solos! And I have to say that there was a big difference in the audience compared to last night’s show. Tonight they were far more enthusiastic and that probably inspired the band too.
One more show to go… I wonder what the last night will bring. No change in the set list I think. But if the concert is better than tonight’s concert than it will be a wonderful ending of the Cream shows! Let’s hope for it! But after having been to the 6 Cream concerts so far I have no complaints, every single show was worth every penny I paid for it (and that are a lot of pennies I can assure you).
Review by Darryl Genis
Tonight I viewed the show from the 11th row, of section 2. (The audience did not stand through the entire show this time) Jack’s voice seemed noticeably weaker at the start of the show, and certainly faltered several times after the initial recovery, but the instrumentation of each member was noticeably better, and more free flowing. Eric’s solo contributions were astounding to say the least. His speed blinding at times. Crossroads came closer than I have ever heard in tempo to the version on "Wheels of Fire". Ginger’s solo on "Toad" was riveting, and longer than last night. By the time they got to "Sunshine" I was halfway expecting a generic 4 minute reheated serving, but the solos were fresh Cream. I can’t wait to hear them tomorrow night.
Review by Al Lewis / NYC, NY
Cream is my all-time favorite band. Like thousands of other fans, I’ve listened to all of the "albums" (and then the CDs) so many hundreds of times (especially during my HS and college days) and know every guitar lick, every drum beat, and every voice intonation on every song on every album. So, needless to say, I was truly thrilled to experience the band, live, for the first time. I mostly agree with the other reviewers about the many amazing peaks (and the few lower points) of the performance at the Garden on Tuesday night (10/25/05). I won’t get into the details on individual songs since others have done so, but I’d like to share a few thoughts:
Jack Bruce sung his heart out during the show – no holds barred! He might not have hit the high notes every time, but he did almost all of the time – and it was a delight to hear his unique voice, bass, and harmonica combo – often during the many creative songs that he wrote for Cream. It was obvious that Jack truly loved the gig. I’ve read that Jack had a serious illness – a liver transplant – which might partly explain why he seemed to be working so hard. Cream fans love Jack’s music, and we wish him the best of health moving forward. Thanks so much, Jack, for all of that energy you delivered during the performance.
Eric Clapton was nothing less than spectacular. Back for three nights with the band where he became a legend nearly 40 years ago, his solos were just phenomenal. It was great to share his solos in an environment with the audience the way I used to share them with my long-lost blues-loving buddies from HS and college. But, what struck me just as much as Eric’s fine guitar playing was that he was willing to let Jack Bruce keep the helm of the band. This was a gracious move for a master who is arguably the most influential blues rock lead guitarist in the world (once referred to as "God" by thousands of fans because of his ability to make his solos an emotional, almost religious experience). Eric, you were humble to keep the same formula that made Cream so great, despite the fact that you wrote only a few of the songs. For that, I also thank you. That being said, when it came time for Eric to step forward and do his thing – on every song, he did so with amazing grace, poise, precision, calm, and with intense emotion from his guitar that one rarely experiences in a live concert.
Ginger Baker, whose unique style motivated me to buy my first drum set after Fresh Cream was released, played those grooves with fervor. While I didn’t see/hear the constant fills I expected on many of the songs (particularly in Outside Woman Blues and Pressed Rat and Warthog), they did emerge, to my delight, from time to time in various songs. Nevertheless, it was truly enjoyable to watch Ginger take command in his most unique way. We saw his amazing technique and wonderful rhythms most clearly on Toad, which I thought was better and more interesting than the recorded version on Wheels of Fire. It’s usually hard to keep the audience’s interest in a 10 minute drum solo – but Ginger did it marvelously. The audience roared after Toad the same way they did after most of Clapton’s solos.
A final comment: Prices for rock concerts have gone through the roof! Incomes may be about 10 times greater than in the 1960s, but these tickets were 40-60 times more than what I used to pay at the Fillmore in 1968. There was essentially "no" promotion expense for this 3-night gig at the Garden…the tickets were gone within a few days. So, during this pitiful time of unbelievable greed and obscene asset accumulation, wouldn’t it be nice for successful bands/musicians to be much more reasonable with ticket prices (and souvenir prices) with their fans? After all, how many millions does one need? How about giving a break to the fans who catapulted successful musicians to where they are today?
Review by Vince
well this review is only going to address a few musical thoughts after a safe, wet ride home. YES I AM GLAD I SAW the Second NY Cream Reunion Show. Clapton’s playing was fluid and at times looser than I would have ever thought I would hear him in person however for the most part so focused on his incredible tones in this venue with such a small ensemble, numbers only
jack well his voice is still such a great story teller, I had to look at my brother and say hey Sunshine(the chorus) finally sounds perfect
thought his playing was tight and on the fretless bends some notes in a really unique way, stayed very safe, aggressive safer than I can ever remember hearing him play with cream, ginger, enjoyed every moment, thought it really odd pacing to end the show with drum solo, essentially, at least jam or extension of some kind would have seemed to brought the guys back together, and ginger looked focused and happy to be part of IT again
NOW A COUPLE OF THOUGHTS NOT COMPLAINTS – did anyone else hear some weird timing or off timing accents in the tempo for the two quiet parts of badge towards the beginning, sounded to me like Eric was more relaxed and ginger was rushing ?, not a real distraction… not a sweet part also the beginning of white room Eric wailed on the wahwah and really made it expressive and when that part between verses were repeated, the wah seemed on but not being used and the distortion made some intense power tones on the closed wah tone very strong tones but like he couldn’t hear that the wah was on in his stage monitors so didn’t use it
Review by Monya McCarty
Tuesday, October 25th at MSG: The further I get from last Tuesday, the luckier I feel that I was able to attend. I took my 12-year-old son (who’s pestering his father for a bass) and his 13-year-old friend (who plays drums) to the second-night show. Well, I don’t have to repeat what’s already been said: it was a mind-blower. A number of songs lifted me out of my seat (and I was grateful we were in the first row of the highest section so our view was a clear shot) but I have to say that Rollin and Tumblin was a revelation. How could anyone sit still during that?!? It heartens me to see these guys in their sixties unfazed by time and cynical expectation. Musicians performing in other musical genres are accepted as they age; why not great rockers? Anyway, one of the highlights for me was looking next to me and seeing my son (born in ’93) playing air guitar to Cream live. Don’t think I’ll ever forget that…hopefully, he won’t either.