Thirty-seven years after one of rock’s early supergroups called it quits, Cream returned to the stage of their last concert. Much-discussed fears about the durability of two members of the power trio, Jack Bruce and Ginger Baker, were quickly put to rest as Bruce’s supple bass work and Baker’s athletic drum attack held up well. Most impressively, Bruce’s voice boomed out a potent reminder that he possessed one of the great vocal styles in power rock’s early days. Less impressively, the Cream songbook turns out to be the trio’s Achilles heel.
Eric Clapton’s playing and singing were particularly inspired and it felt as ifhe was calling the shots, tune-wise, the entire evening. But Bruce was truly the revelation, matching Clapton at every turn on his instrument and proving the underrated rocker’s spectacular vocals had lost nothing over the decades.
Turning in a two-hour set (including an emotionally charged drum solo) with no break, the band gave almost half the time to blues classics that were at the heart of their live sets in their heyday between 1966 and 1968.
This is where time has proven the avenger; their spunky, young white boy treatments back in the ’60s enlivened blues standards such as “Born Under a Bad Sign,” “Rollin’ and Tumblin’,” “Sittin’ on Top of the World” and “Spoonful,” while their uber-accelerated ’60s approach reinvented Robert Johnson’s “Crossroads.”
The trio scored early with “Sleepy Time Time,” which perhaps best captured the classic studio Cream sound onstage. By the time they got to hits “White Room” and “Sunshine of Your Love,” (latter done as the sole encore), Cream had taken the momentous evening a little too easy, with too much padding and too few bursts of classic power trio energy. And clearly, their classic, riff-driven originals don’t stand up next to the best of the other mega-stars of the time, i.e., the hits of the Rolling Stones, Beatles and Dylan.
It won’t be surprising if they shift the set around, speed up the tempo and drop a few numbers to get to the meat of the set earlier on the next three nights at this venue. After all, they’re Cream. What have they got to lose? They won’t be trying this again in 35 years.