Cream Reunion, Madison Square Garden

Cream Reunion

 

Madison Square Garden, October 24, 2005:

 

       The Cream reunion at Madison Square Garden is a three night musical event. This is the only other venue since the Royal Albert Hall in London, England for anyone to witness this historic occasion. The tickets are almost impossible to obtain, so I come here alone. Tonight is opening night.

       Cream comes on stage at 8:34 P.M. The crowd stands and erupts with excitement. Cream opens with “I’m So Glad.” The musical sound is full and the harmonies are tight. Clapton’s guitar solo is excellent. I notice Ginger Baker is a tad stiff on the drums. “Spoonful” is next. Jack Bruce is magnificent on vocals. His voice is as strong as ever. The band sound is hot! Clapton executes a long sexy blues jam. The song displays good dynamics, a sensitive touch, and charismatic vocal technique.

    

Ginger Baker, Eric Clapton and Jack Bruce

    

Photo: ©A.J. Alfaro

       From Disraeli Gears they play, “Outside Woman Blues.” Clapton is outstanding on lead guitar. “Pressed Rat and Warthog” is next, featuring Ginger Baker on lead vocals. The arrangement is very different, a loose 6/8 tempo. This catches me off guard as I try to understand this new approach to the composition. “Sleepy Time Time” is the best song so far. The vocals are ‘fat’ and the harmonies are perfect, with the exact amount of vibrato and sustain. The tempo is slow and hypnotic. The presentation is tight and fresh. Clapton’s blues lead is purposely restrained. He then executes long creative blues runs into well timed crescendos. Excellent! He thoughtfully conceives great phrasing and well timed stops for clear dynamic emphasis.

       “Tales Of Brave Ulysses” follows and is played powerfully, with a staunch 4/4 meter. Jack Bruce has strong vocals and Clapton’s guitar is impressive. “N.S.U.” is together but somewhat subdued. The original creative phrasing is not distinguishable, and the presentation is somewhat lackluster. Eric Clapton picks it up with wild leads and Ginger Baker finally kicks up the double bass drums. Now, Ginger Baker begins to stand out as he did in ‘live’ performances of years gone by. “Badge” is next in which the band blends nicely. Clapton’s lead vocal is excellent. His guitar work is outstanding as this is an excellent musical arrangement. “Politician” features Jack Bruce’s kick-ass vocals and bass. Jack can still reach his entire vocal range on this number. Jack struts on the stage as Clapton wails his guitar.

    

Jack Bruce

    

Photo: ©A.J. Alfaro

       “Sweet Wine’ begins a long musical jam. Ginger steps up again, as Clapton shines. This is the best extended jam of the night as Cream is simmering. This jam demonstrates excellent dynamics and musical cohesion. Yes! “Rollin’ and Tumblin’” follows as Jack Bruce wails his harmonica. Ginger makes like a train as he rolls on the snare. I begin to notice Ginger Baker is playing very little syncopated double bass drums. His left foot is again and again playing this huge hi-hat he has at his left side. I am beginning to miss this integral component of Cream’s musical sound. I sense Ginger is not the domineering powerhouse he once was.

       “Stormy Monday” is a slow blues that features Eric Clapton on vocals. He executes an extended blues lead that starts very subtle and restrained and then builds to an amazing emotional climax of musical expression. “Deserted Cities Of The Heart,” from Wheels Of Fire, is next. Ginger finally plays a syncopated drum piece. Jack Bruce is excellent on vocals as Clapton and Baker do a brief answer/response cut-time percussive passage. “Born Under A Bad Sign” features Jack Bruce on impressive vocals. Ginger is again missing in action on the syncopated double bass drums. “We’re Going Wrong” is outstanding. Ginger Baker on mallets and Jack Bruce on the eerie vocal lead. The arrangement is surreal, sultry, mysterious and as always musically ominous. Baker and Clapton work off each other very effectively. This is one of Ginger’s better drum performances. “Crossroads” is laid back and crisp, but lacks the aggressive drive of yesteryear. Clapton’s vocals are adequate, but not inspiring. Again, Ginger Baker is laying off the double bass drums. Clapton builds the vocals and plays an inspiring guitar solo. The song ends strong. “Sitting On Top Of The World” is an excellent blues presentation. Jack Bruce shines. After that song ends, Ginger starts a drum pattern that is clearly a mistake. Jack Bruce laughs it off as a brief solo.

       “White Room” is next as the band jells. The crowd is noticeably reserved and subdued, as Ginger again avoids the double bass drums. Sometimes I get the feeling the band lacks the overwhelming knockout punch they used to possess. Ginger Baker is sometimes a pale resemblance of his former forceful and passionate performance persona. But wait just a minute! “Toad” changes all that. Finally, we get the Ginger Baker of old. Although the solo starts with the cut-time passage, Ginger prevails and his double bass drum technique finally busts out! The complex, syncopated phrasing between his hands and feet finally emerges. He plays tremendous tom-tom passages, and a unique cymbal feature that tickles the audience and excites me incredibly. “Toad” is excellent! Double bass drum syncopation and polyrhythmic fantasy abound. These are all the old drum patterns and technique that many drummers struggled to comprehend and imitate in the late sixties.

       Cream exits to a standing ovation. After a long pause and much audience perseverance, “Sunshine Of Your Love” is the encore. The band is tight. The crowd is standing and excited. Cream plays an extended jam, as Ginger is syncopated and inventive.

       Opening night at Madison Square Garden is a success. Although at times the playing is somewhat uneven, the outstanding moments triumph, and the overall feeling is a great one! I am elated and honored that I was able to witness this historic musical reunion. Thank you Eric Clapton, Jack Bruce and Ginger Baker for once again reminding us what tremendous musicians you are and what a magnificent contribution Cream has made to Rock & Roll’s long and enduring legacy.


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A.J. Alfaro

and.the.beat.goes.on@worldnet.att.net