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Cream @ Madison Square Gardens Monday October 24, 2005.


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Cream Prove they are just that the Cream...

Cream - New York, NY, Madison Square Gardens

Monday October 24, 2005.

Show Review

By Timothy Batke

cream.jpg

Cream

The career of Cream was like a missile. They came in hard and fast and after Ginger Baker, Jack Bruce and Eric Clapton exploded onto the music scene in the summer of 1966 they changed the terrain of popular music forever. But much like a missile after Cream detonated on the world of music, they left their mark and then they were done a little over two years after they started in the fall of 1968. So it is only fitting that when Clapton approached Bruce and Baker for a reunion of Cream in early 2005 that the reunion would be short lived as well.

Initially the three men now all in their sixties, planned to do a run of four shows at the Royal Albert Hall on May 2,3,5,6, 2005. A fitting venue to perform a run of shows since their last gig as Cream was at the same venue on November 26, 1968. After the run of May shows that could have very well been it, if it were not for the abundance of promoters from the United States of America pushing the three men for more shows on the other side of the Atlantic Ocean.

Madison Square Garden promoter Ron Delsener won out over all other promoters and found three nights in a row in October at the very busy Gardens to stage Cream’s return to North America since November 4, 1968 (Not including Cream’s performance to their induction to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame on January 12, 1993 at the Century Plaza Hotel in Los Angeles). So the dates were set for October 24, 25, 26, 2005 and the anticipation of the event was like that of a Superbowl in America, as this was not a tour but just three gigs in one venue to see a historically significant band most thought they would never get a chance to witness live.

Over sixty percent of the 55,000 tickets sold for the three shows were from residence outside of the New York City area. The tickets prices ranged from $60-350 and a great effort was made by Delsener and ticketmaster to have the tickets end up in the hands of fans. Ticketmaster made sure that if multiple orders from the same address were used, even if a different credit card was used that those orders would be cancelled. This resulted in more 7,000 tickets being thrown back into the system. Even with the effort put forth some tickets were being resold for $4,500 plus on ebay and by ticket brokers.

For those who paid those astronomical ticket prices to see Cream at their first show on Monday night, likely walked away saying it was money well spent. I myself sat rear stage with my $60 ticket, so I felt like I had the bargain of the century. Though no one usually wants to be behind the band, I enjoyed the perspective it gave me of the three men on stage throughout the night, which I will go into in this review.

The Garden crowd filled in to the point of capacity and then Eric, Jack and Ginger took the stage a little after half past eight. After seeing two of other of the greatest English Invasion acts earlier this year, the Rolling Stones and former Beatle Paul McCartney, I must say it was refreshing to see Cream take the stage without any video montage or pyrotechnics. Yes Cream had three video screens, one thankfully for the rear stage, but that was just so you can see the musicians play. As it always was with Cream, Monday night was entirely about the music.

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Fittingly the show opened the gig with “I’m So Glad,†which I am sure the entire audience was glad to see the band on stage again after all this time. Cream was one of the first groups in the sixties to seriously delve into the treasure trove of American blues artists, and the Skip James number “I’m So Glad†found on Cream’s debut album ‘Fresh Cream’ was one of many blues numbers through out the night.

The concert had Cream performing their interpretation of the aforementioned Skip James as well as Willie Dixon, Arthur Reynolds, Muddy Waters, T-Bone Walker, Booker T. Jones with William Bell, Robert Johnson and Chester Burnett. Cream were one of the first bands to take from the blues masters and make the songs all their own and they also did it better than most.

After seeing Eric Clapton on stage several times over the past decade plus, it was great to see him on stage as the only guitarist with the rhythm section that propelled him into another stratosphere of popularity that helped to create the living legend that he is today. Add in the fact that Jack Bruce had most of the lead vocal duties, Clapton was there to focus on mainly one thing, and that was to play Fender Stratocaster guitar. Back in the days of Cream he played several different types of Les Paul’s, but those days are gone and his signature “Blackie†was on stage with him all night long. It was not the original “Blackie†that guitar was retired from the stage long ago, though it was the model that Fender made to his favorite guitars specifications.

I knew Clapton would put on an impressive performance, he has consistently done so over the time that I have seen him live. The big question mark for me was to see how Ginger Baker and Jack Bruce performed on stage? Ginger Baker basically came out of retirement from his South African ranch to play these gigs. And at sixty-six with degenerative osteoarthritis which affects his spine and makes it difficult for him to sit for a whole set he was the biggest question mark. Yet watching Baker all night long, a senior citizen with arthritis he was not, he seemed like he was a drummer one third his age out there. Baker proved to everyone at MSG that night why he is one of the first legendary drummers in rock and roll and still should be regarded in that manner of respect. Especially during his signature song “Toad†where Baker went into a brilliant nearly nine minute drum solo.

During Baker’s drum solo you could see Clapton on the side of the stage the entire time sitting there with his guitar strapped on watching his old band mate pounding the drums. It was great to see how Clapton wanted to stay on the side of the stage to watch Baker play his heart out rather than go back stage for a tea or whatever. Halfway through the drum solo Bruce joined Clapton and the two of them stood side by side watching the rest of Baker’s drum solo while having a brief conversation with each other, to be a fly on the wall for that conversation.

Jack Bruce was diagnosed with liver cancer in 2003 and nearly did not survive liver transplant surgery in the fall of 2003 as his body initially rejected the organ. Now in 2005 was well enough to play this reunion of Cream shows. Bruce also proved to the audience that he still play and maybe even more so that he still has a great voice.

Whether Baker was belting out the blues classics like Willie Dixon’s “Spoonful†or some of his own classic numbers like “Sleepy Time Time†or “N.S.U.†which has one of my favorite lyrics in the Cream catalogue “the only time I’m happy is when I play my guitar,†the concert went on and Bruce’s voice only seemed to get stronger.

The volatile relationship between the rhythm players in Cream is one of legend. Personal tensions between band members, mainly between Ginger and Jack is often sited for one of the main reasons the legendary group broke up so soon after they began. And even as Cream was playing their first show in the United States in thirty-seven years the tension between Baker and Bruce has still not gone away.

During “We’re Going Wrong†a Jack Bruce number from ‘Disraeli Gears,’ a conflict ensued on stage between Baker and Bruce. The song had Baker playing the drums with timpani drum sticks as it is one of Cream’s quieter songs. It became abundantly clear that Bruce felt that Baker was not playing the drum part quietly enough and he turned to the drummer between verses and motioned with his hand to turn down the volume and the said something as well. As Baker was told this from Bruce the drummer was on the screen and I could actually see Baker shake his head no to the request and he immediately played the drums harder with those timpani sticks. The song naturally builds up with Clapton’s guitar playing becoming more prevalent by the end of the song, but it seemed like the crescendo was forced based on the conflict on stage. I have read about the conflict between Ginger and Jack in books and in print over the years, but to actually see in on stage was something to see.

Clapton as per usual focused mainly on the blues to bring across his emotions. He even pulled out a T-Bone Walker song “Stormy Monday†that was not previously apart of Cream’s catalogue of material performed. During which Slowhand showed everyone that he has become a powerful voice not just with his guitar playing, but his vocals as well. Clapton has been playing “Stormy Monday†since he came out of his heroine induced hiatus in the early seventies, but he sings it better now than he did over thirty years ago. He is more comfortable vocally now and when he said “This is what I say/Lord have mercy/Lord have mercy on me,†it did not feel like he was just singing it, it felt like he was praying it.

No surprise Cream performed “Crossroads,†the song Clapton adapted from the King of the Delta Blues Robert Johnson and by doing so, helped to bring Johnson to the world. Clapton didn’t play it like a kid in his early twenties, but like a man who just turned sixty this past March 30, it was a less intense rendition of the Johnson classic about selling his soul to the devil at the crossroads. The version was more reminiscent of how Clapton plays it now as a solo artist, though he was still gave us moments of the intensity on his axe that he had back in 1968.

A song that Cream performed at the Gardens that they did not play in May at the Royal Albert Hall was the Eric Clapton/Martin Sharp number “Tales of Brave Ulysses†from ‘Disreali Gears.’ A song which has Eric Clapton playing a Wah Wah pedal, something of a rarity at Clapton show, much like another old Yardbird Jeff Beck you often do not see them playing around with pedals on stage.

The majority of the crowd had either already owned either or the new CD/DVD Cream ‘Royal Albert Hall: London May 2-3-5-6-2005’ that was only just released or they at least knew the setlist in London because the crowd went absolutely nuts for “Tales of Brave Ulysses†and there was a feeling of surprise that came from their reaction.

It was also interesting to see how the performances of Cream’s two biggest hits “White Room†and “Sunshine of Your Love†went down. For the past thirty plus years Clapton had been singing these songs and now Clapton was singing back up to Bruce again.

During “White Room†the Wah Wah pedal came back out and Bruce and Clapton actually exchanged verses which is not how the original version went down with Bruce singing the whole song. There were moments where it was clear that either Jack or Eric almost did not know when to go up and take a verse, at one point they both went up at the same time.

For the encore the final number of the night was their signature song the Jack Bruce/Eric Clapton number with Cream’s lyricist Pete Brown “Sunshine of Your Love.†Again it was great to see how Clapton nearly forgot to sing the second line due to the fact that for the past three decades he had been singing Bruce’s first line, while giving the second line to others in his solo band like bassist Nathan East. Luckily Clapton just got to the microphone just in time and while he sang the verse he had a big smile on his face.

The crowd was all on their feet for “Sunshine of Your Love†and much of the crowd were on their feet all night long, but whether they were sitting at some points, like Bruce was sitting on a stool from time to time during Clapton vocal songs, that did not mean the crowd or Bruce were not giving it their all. And when “Sunshine of Your Love†ended a little over two hours after the show began Ginger, Jack and Eric went to the front of the stage with their arms around each other and bowed and walked off stage the crowd cheered in the Gardens as if the New York Knicks had just won the NBA Championship.

The reunion might not last beyond these three shows at Madison Square Gardens and the four shows at the Royal Albert Hall, but Cream proved that they still had the chemistry that made them so famous a long time ago. Ginger, Jack and Eric also proved that they can still play with the best of them and that they still are the Cream.

Setlist:

Cream

Madison Square Garden

Monday October 24, 2005

Start time 8:32PM

1. I’m So Glad

2. Spoonful

3. Outside Woman Blues

4. Pressed Rat and Warthog

5. Sleepy Time Time

6. Tales of Brave Ulysses

7. N.S.U.

8. Badge

9. Politician

10. Sweet Wine

11. Rollin’ and Tumblin’

12. Stormy Monday

13. Deserted Cities of the Heart

14. Born Under a Bad Sign

15. We’re Going Wrong

16. Crossroads

17. Sitting On Top of the World

18. White Room

19. Toad

20. Encore: Sunshine of Your Love

End time 10:36PM (Total time 2 hours and 4 minutes)

Thanks to billboard for help on some of the statistics from their October 22, 2995 article ‘Exclusively Cream’ by Chris Norman

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