If you had no idea who the members of Cream were and saw them standing on the street together, you might mistake them for some middle-aged guy taking his elderly parents out to dinner. Clapton looks all right, but Jack Bruce looks like one of those weird, old ladies you see working the tumbler at Monday night bingo and Ginger Baker, jeez, who let Kirk Douglas out of bed?
But when these giants sauntered onto an American stage together for the first time in 37 years, they defied their senior status with a two-hour set proving they are still three of the most important rock musicians in history. Echoes of “Goodbye Cream” floated through Madison Square Gardenon the first of a three-night stand at the NYC mecca as Clapton played the opening scale to “I’m So Glad,” which hadn’t sounded this good since the trio’s live swan song from ’68.
The group pretty much stuck to the set list that comprised its Royal Albert Hall residency in May, so if you had Reprise’s recent CD/DVD souvenir, you know the score. Still, to see Cream play these songs live before your eyes was really something to behold.
The middle-aged record store pundits who squandered their eBay bucks to secure front row seats could’ve swore they heard Bruce, Clapton and Baker arguing onstage and jeered the overall performance as “untogether.” But if you weren’t one of those people who were expecting to all of the sudden see Clapton come out in long hair and bellbottoms to perfectly recreate the druggy, psychedelic tone that once emitted from his brown Vox amp, Cream sounded amazing.
This was especially evident when the band broke out such nuggets as “Spoonful,” “Politician”, the Ginger-led “Pressed Rat & Wart Hog,” “Sweet Sweet Wine,” T-Bone Walker’s “Story Monday” (featuring spectacular Clapton soloing) and the mighty “Toad” (complete with killer drum solo)p. Cream even tried its hand at the “Disraeli Gears” gem “Tales of Brave Ulysses,” which marked the first time the band ever played the song live.
Sure, they stumbled a little something on the hits. Both “Crossroads” and “White Room” suffered greatly from clumsy starts and yes, a bit of untogetherness. And you can argue the case that “Strange Brew” was oddly omitted from the set list.
But to hear Clapton do the guitar break on “Badge” live, especially after enduring his recent awful solo album, “Back Home,” renews your faith in “God.” And Ginger, who looked like death warmed over when he toured with Masters Of Reality a decade ago, played with enough renewed fervor and energy to make you want to throw his live album with Fela Kuti back in heavy rotation on the stereo.
When they came back onstage, they were only good for a one-song encore that consisted of “Sunshine of Your Love.” But, in light of the fact that most of us have endured generations of crappy bar bands butchering this tune beyond recognition, to be able to hear the original masters play their signature song to its perfect genesis was a moment that won’t soon be forgotten.