CREAM: LIVE AT THE ROYAL ALBERT HALL
Review by Mark Wiechman
Jack Bruce, Eric Clapton, Ginger Baker
Director: Martyn Atkins
Audio: Dolby 2.0 and DTS 5.1
Video: Color Widescreen
Studio: Warner Strat. Mkt.
Features: See Review
Length: 130 minutes
Release date: October 4, 2005
and Jack were kind of musical rebels, you know, they were going after something,
and unstoppable. And so we did
jell, I had that too. It felt like
I was on a mission, and up until I met them, that I was on my own, and then I
felt like I was with my ilk, I’d met my like, my match.
For as long as it went on, even though we didn’t really know what we
were doing, we were very happy a lot of the time.”
In its earlier days
rock was not taken seriously as music to be listened to.
But The Beatles changed that attitude partly just because they dared to
include the lyrics to their songs on the back of the Sgt. Ppper’s LP,
signaling that their lyrics were important and could be read as less than
literature perhaps but more than just recyclable fluff.
In most pop situations the band was just there to back up the singers and
often the singers were also the band. Excellent
lead guitar players like George Harrison, James Burton, and Hank Ballard (who
played lead licks for the Beatles, Ricky Nelson, and Elvis respectively) and the
incomparable Funk Brothers playing on Motown tunes were taken largely for
granted and were not well known individually.
“I went down
to the crossroads…fell down on my knees…”
Cream was the first
rock all-star band. It had always
been common to get some of the best players together for jazz albums, but here
were three of the most skilled rock players joining forces.
None of them jumped around or cared about their image, but rather found
huge commercial success relying on the music itself.
Eric Clapton was the first white guitarist who mastered blues guitar and
brought it to the masses who had never heard of Muddy Waters, let alone Robert
Johnson. He became well known as
guitarist for the Bluesbreakers, and over the years met most of the other
luminaries of British Rock. Bassist
and vocalist Jack Bruce and drummer Ginger Baker both had strong jazz
backgrounds, with reputations for virtuosity not normally found in rock rhythm
sections. Often Baker sounds as
though he hits the cymbals in precisely the same spot each time, and Bruce’s
bass lines combine the swing of Paul Chambers with the melodiousness of Paul
McCartney but in many ways creating a unique, authoritative, and daring style
which influenced every bass player who heard him.
He showed that the bass, especially in trio situations, had a huge roll
to play. Baker had chops comparable
to Tony Williams and the ferocity of Max Roach but raised the bar even higher,
setting the stage for physically intimidating drumming of the future. Without Jack Bruce, there may not have been a Chris Squire or
Geddy Lee, and without Ginger Baker, there would not have been a John Bonham.
“In the White
Room with black curtains in the station…
I wait in this
place where the sun never shines…
Wait in this
place where the shadows run from themselves.”
Even though Bruce
and Baker were completely incompatible personally, they both wanted to play with
Clapton, who proclaimed them “the cream” of British rock musicians.
Since they only recorded three albums worth of studio material until
their final album “Goodbye,” they would stretch out their tunes like jazz
musicians and unintentionally started the wave of improvisational
blues-influenced bands. The
combination of Clapton’s blues guitar with a martial rhythm section changed
rock forever. Suddenly, it was very
cool to be a drummer or bass player, to say nothing of the cult of the lead
guitarist as a god among gods.
Bruce in particular had a voice unlike any other in music, a loud,
sonorous baritone with a huge range that could sing any style, while still
playing brilliant bass and even harmonica.
His composing is also innovative despite the occasional psychedelic
meltdown. Unfortunately, what
brought the band down after only about two years were clashing personalities and
somewhat valid criticism that they not really a band at all but three soloists.
They started the British blues-rock revolution which included the Jimi
Hendrix Experience, the Jeff Beck Group, and hit its zenith with the almighty
Led Zeppelin. They also influenced
The Police, who took the exact reverse approach than Cream, using reggae instead
of blues and using as few notes as possible.
“I found out
today...we’re going wrong…”
Clapton have fans waited for him to play with the explosive energy he displayed
with Cream. For years he focused on singing good songs, all the while playing
interesting but rarely hot solos. Those
solos are here in spades! It was
fitting that their reunion would open at the Royal Albert Hall, where they
played their final show in November of 1968.
Selling out a whole week of shows far in advance, this DVD set sounds and
looks excellent. In some ways they
are not what they used to be, Bruce and Baker not aging too well physically, but
still playing with bravado and Clapton once again feeding off the energy of the
others to catapult the music far beyond what three mortal men should be able to
do. Most tempi are a tad pedestrian
and several great Cream tunes are omitted such as SWLABR and Tales of
Brave Ulysses. Bruce does sound
great on the haunting We’re Going Wrong and Born Under a Bad Sign.
Stormy Monday and Outside Woman Blues are not on any greatest
hits collection and are welcome additions here.
We do have to sit through Baker’s absurd Pressed Rat and Warthog, but
Crossroads sounds great even if it is only a shadow of the famous version
from Wheels of Fire. So
it is great to see and hear this great trio again, but fans should be realistic
in their expectations. Footage of
the 1968 farewell concert, which is also available on DVD, shows more energy but
clearly the band was worn out and probably suffering from drug side effects
which compromised their playing. This
concert fortunately does not have those problems
It is the same musicians but now matured and using modern equipment,
playing classics like a jazz band would.
waiting so long…to be where I’m going…
In the Sunshine
of Your Love.”
One of the best
features of this DVD is that the show starts immediately without the usual FBI
warnings, previews, etc. that pollute so many other releases. We are briskly run through the backstage area, and then we
see our heroes take the stage. The
only other DVD that does this (to my knowledge) is the monumental Led
Songlist: Disc One: I’m so Glad, Spoonful, Outside Woman Blues, Pressed Rat and Warthog, Sleepy Time Time, N.S.U., Badge, Politician, Sweet Wine, Rollin’ and Tumblin’, Stormy Monday, Deserted Cities of the Heart, Born Under a Bad Sign, We’re Going Wrong, alternate takes of Sleepy Time Time and We’re Going Wrong. Disc Two: Crossroads, Sitting on top of the World, White Room, Toad, Sunshine of Your Love, Interviews, alternate take of Sunshine of Your Love.
A nice wide screen
for rock’s first power trio! Regularly
changing camera angles and occasional three-way screens reminiscent of Woodstock
make it interesting. Lighting is
good, and the picture is clear and sharp throughout.
Dolby Stereo and
DTS 5.1 both sound great, although in the 5.1 the audience noise is a tad louder
than it should be coming from the rear speakers. I had the same problem with the Rush in Rio set but
Cream’s mix is much better.
The long quote
above is from Clapton, whose interview is a highlight of the features.
While there are no other features but the interviews, they are extensive
and revealing. For example, Bruce
explains that I Feel Free was too difficult to reproduce, and Baker says
that they never did Badge because it was on the last album and the band
had broken up by then. They admit they were overwhelmed by how great the audience
reception was for these shows. In
the old days, they were very free-spirited and cavalier, but now they are all
grown up and are actually taking the shows more seriously today.