Tuesday, October 25, 2005

Cream: Half and Half

Expectations can be a terrible thing. Unfortunately, some concerts come pre-sold with such a high bar built in, and it takes a nearly flawless effort by the band to rise above the optimism and enthusiasm of thousands of wide-eyed Pollyannas.

Contrary to my own lede, I'm not really sure my expectations were all that high for last night's historic, monumental, once-in-a-lifetime, 37-years-in-the-making, I-can't-believe-I-got-a-ticket-and-I'm-here reunion show at the self-proclaimed world's most famous arena. Okay, so maybe I'm lying. I was pretty excited.

Still, I'd consider myself more underwhelmed than disappointed by Cream's effort at Madison Square Garden last night. I got what I wanted, and the show went exactly as I expected: three legendary sextagenarians reuniting to play two hours worth of music they made famous four decades ago. These three lads provided us with a great night, and I certainly left the arena with fond memories.

But this show is the very definition of the phrase "nostalgia act." Here's what I mean: Cream broke out its biggest hits -- Badge, Crossroads, White Room, Sunshine of Your Love -- and added some of the lesser known but equally fantastic material, but the once-inspiring jams were simply missing. Maybe the boys left them back in the late '60s, or maybe Clapton just held back because Jack and Ginger couldn't keep up and he knew it.

Either way, take a listen to the first incarnation of Cream and its wickedly powerful, explosive bluesy jams. As of last night, only the actual songs and chord progressions remained; the jams and improvised interplay are all but gone.

That's not to say I didn't enjoy myself. Thoroughly. Hell, how many opportunities do you get in this life to watch Eric Fucking Clapton play Crossroads to a sold out MSG crowd? Will you find many more chances to see the original Cream trio break out a fantastic Badge > Politician? Is there anything cooler than a Sunshine of Your Love encore? Anyone who walked out with something other than a full-toothed smile has some serious depression issues.

All that said, on the subway home we were left wondering whether Clapton would have been better had he played with a group of younger, more capable musicians. There were plenty of times where it looked as if he wanted to explode with a rippin' old school Slowhand Solo, but then he remembered who his tag team partners for the night were. Then again, that would defeat the purpose of us being there in the first place.

Just how old are these guys? Ginger Baker appeared to be the perfect combination of Clint Eastwood and Larry David, only as a post-op frontal lobotomy patient. Ginger also died seven or eight years ago. Right after attending Jack Bruce's funeral.

Jack Bruce, incidentally, has been playing a whole lot better since they invented electricity. Shit, the last time I saw Jack Bruce pluck this well was six and a half months before he signed the Declaration of Independence. I mean, this guy is so old he's actually Robert the Bruce's father, Jack. Rumor has it he learned to play bass as a clubhouse attendant for the Cleveland Spiders. But that's just a rumor, I heard he really picked it up while brokering the Peace of Westphalia. He holds the bass just like he held his Revolutionary War musket. Oh, he looks old.

It's actually amazing how much younger Clapton looked than the other two guys on stage, especially considering he's not that much younger at all. But he just looked spry by comparison, so together. Then you look at Ginger Baker, who clearly ran out of gas on his extended drum solo halfway through. Seriously, no matter how good it was, how do you feature a drum solo with a guy that looks like he just woke up from a fourteen-year diabetic coma and then suffered twin paralyzing strokes after coming to? I'm not entirely sure.

If you can't tell from this disjointed review whether I liked the show or not, you're not alone. I have no idea how I truly feel. As a show, as a night out on the town, it was worth every penny. As a two-hour set of music, aside from the nostalgia and the wishful thinking, it was a group of old-looking, old-sounding mismatched musicians who've had too long a layoff to be taken seriously.

Oh well, let's just chalk it up to a great night and leave it there.

Game Notes
Hanging with Donnie Fiedler has its perks: We bought $65 tickets to the show, but after following some careful steps out of our Savvy Arena Rock Veteran Handbook, we ended up sitting in some $350 corporate seats all night, pretty f'in' close Cream ... Thanks to Bart Starbux, Brett Stinson & Company for sitting in some awesome seats and "Woo Hoo"ing ... We bounced around between two rows in Section 53, having been kicked out by a group of teenagers. The teens then got taken by security for smoking, so we came back into their seats. One teen came back, and during Badge, proceeded to launch into the following tirade to get Donnie and I to leave: "Get the fuck out of my seats. These are my fucking seats. Get the fuck out. Seriously, I paid for these seats, get the fuck out of here. Yo, get the fuck out of my seats man, these are MY seats, these are MY seats." It was hysterical, and embarassing for him. He went on for maybe two minutes, loudly, like that, before Donnie bartered with him and we kept the seats. Fuck that kid ... We came home to watch the second half of the Jets game -- these guys really suck. Disregard everything nice I've ever said about them ... Badge and Politician, I'm still smiling about that. Awesome.

For more reviews of the show, click here.

15 Comments:

At 1:44 PM, Blogger Bart Starbux said...

Good review, Bullet. I remember having beers in a bar before the show and saying, "Wouldn't it be great if they came out in velvet bellbottoms and paisley butterfly collars?" There was a little laughter and a few "Hell yeahs," but then I thought about it. And I realized that, no, in fact, that would be stupid as shit--and not just because the idea of Skeletor in Cream power duds is enough to ruin my lunch. In '67, that worked just fine, but if they tried to pull the same look, it would come off as slightly silly posturing at best and a pathetic groping for the past at worst. That's not who they are anymore, this certainly isn't the tumultuous, highly experimental sixties, and that crowd sure as hell didn't resemble a pack of activists and geeked-up hippies.

So I guess all that can apply to the music as well, to some extent. Health issues and energy levels aside, these guys aren't revolutionary musicians with all kinds of chemicals running through their systems anymore (see Clapton's last album of plugged-in elevator music). They're old dudes with families. We don't expect them to gear up in velvet, spike their veins, and act like it's the sixties. So is it fair to expect them to think, play, and jam like it's the sixties? I don't think so. I think that all you can expect is for them to play a solid show and do as much justice to the music as they can, given that it's over three decades old. And I think they did that.

Now, having said that, would I have given uno testicle to see Clapton uncork one in the middle of Badge or Crossroads? Yes (the right one). But I still came away satisfied. Did I get chill bumps at any point during the show? No, but I think that it was probably a mistake to expect to get them.

-bux

 
At 2:03 PM, Blogger Ace Cowboy said...

So I guess we agree on the fact that we were wrong to expect anything...but I think you put a better spin on it than I did. You wanna write for a blog?

I'm just glad I was in the building and got to see a really cool once-in-a-lifetime event. Unless Cream starts touring, then I'll bash the shit out of em!

 
At 2:08 PM, Blogger Bart Starbux said...

No, on the contrary, for that kind of money, I think we have every right to expect them to play a good show. Had they charged that much for tickets and merch, then just mailed it in or were extremely loose and unrehearsed, then we would have had every right to punch people in the face. But I don't think they did that. I think they were pretty damn tight (considering how long it's been) and that they gave a good effort. They clearly cared enough to do it right. They didn't go out there and try to change the world or anything, but they don't really have to. They already did that.

 
At 3:25 PM, Blogger abby said...

Wait a minute...chill bumps?

 
At 3:25 PM, Blogger Don Fiedler said...

Actually, it was Clapton and Babyface that changed the world.

I think the show was just fine for what it was. Ace is right, it's a total nostalgia act. I'm pretty sure that everyone in that building knew what to expect. Face it, most of those people were 50 to 65 and much of their time is taken up nostalgizing their own lives. They're a lot slower now too and they derive equal parts pleasure and sadness knowing that they used to be faster.

The only problem was that Clapton was clearly up to the task. He was ready to tear that place up. But the other two are so slow that he can't just rip it. 1. They might die. 2. They can't keep up if they didn't die. The real problem was in a song like White Room where Bruce is just not fast enough to rev up the bassline and let Clapton improvise and fill in all of the spaces between the down beats. (I have no idea if that even makes sense, musically). Cream was built on blues, which is a spare sounding genre, leaving lots of room to improvise. What made Cream great is that they could push it, speeding up the blues so that Clapton had to play faster to fill in the spaces and on and on it went. Now, the speed is down and Clapton sounds slower as a result. It's not bad. It's not even unexpected. It's just the little bit of sadness that old people feel when they yearn for the past and know they can't do it anymore.

But I still think it was a sight-to-be-seen, a true spectacle.

 
At 3:47 PM, Blogger Monk said...

Slack...

Wow... Badge>Politician... Sunshine closer? I can almost hear the crossroads riff echoing throughout MSG... I bet the people got the floor bouncing (the actual floor) like Phish NYE 02.

The paragraph where you talk about how old the guys are had me rolling.

Good Stuff!

-Monk

 
At 3:58 PM, Blogger Bart Starbux said...

You're right there, Donald. He can still do it if he wants to, but apparently in order to do said it, he also needs the right guys around him. All the more reason to hope that those Derek and the Dominoes tour rumors are true. Hopefully if that comes to pass, he'll load up with younger guys that can not only support him, but contribute. Although based upon those corpses on stage last night, I guess there is a possibility that Duane Allman shows up in '06. Maybe Clapton really is God...

Sorry, Abby. I'm not sure what terminology you prefer. Goosebumps maybe? Excellent judgementalism, however.

 
At 4:06 PM, Blogger abby said...

Whoa. That was so cold - I think I just got chill bumps.

 
At 4:22 PM, Anonymous handstand said...

I'm still a little perplexed by the lack of appreciation for Ginger's drum solo at the end. It had me dancing/playing air drums the entire time. Did people not like it because Ginger Baker is old? Was the drum solo better than a Billy Martin solo? Joe Russo? Stanton Moore? Of course not. But for a 90+ year old guy, he impressed the hell out of me.

 
At 5:01 PM, Blogger Gypsy Rose said...

I figured Clapton must have been up to the task. You just don't lose that kind of 'deal with the devil at the crossroads' talent by getting older.

But the only way getting older (for mere mortals) is equal parts pleasure and pain is if Clapton levels of smack are providing the pleasure. Otherwise, mostly it's pain.

And I believe the correct term is goose bimples.

 
At 5:09 PM, Blogger Ace Cowboy said...

Well, Monk, I kinda lied...it wasn't Badge > Politician, they definitely stopped in between tunes. But they did play them back to back, I just didn't want to put a comma in there. Highlight of the show for me was that combo, including the 17 year old punk trying to kick us out of the seats.

Handstand, I was pretty impressed with about 55 percent of that drum solo...but about half way through he totally lost it. Or at least I thought he lost it. Was it better than the average 67 year old dude? Sure. But do I need to see a 67 year old dude play a 10 minute drum solo to close the set? Never. I'm not trying to hate on Ginger Baker, I'm just saying, weirdly placed drum solo by old dudes don't blow me away.

 
At 5:12 PM, Blogger Jason Mulgrew said...

Weren't you guys all so high that you didn't know the difference? I thought the drugs was high y'all went to concerts in the first place.

 
At 11:43 AM, Blogger offpeak34 said...

so i tried to keep myself from reading/writing anything about cream yesterday, as i was going to the show last night. i failed on the reading part, but did refrain from writing. i thought cream sounded excellent. jack bruce definately looks like a dinosaur, far more so than ginger baker i thought. ec looked young onstage. the song-selection was to be expected. you had to figure considering the magnitude of the event (in terms of rock history, and the amount of money being thrown down)that they had significant pressure to play all the "hits."

i thought the drum solo was pretty poorly placed, and a little on the long-side, but after seeing ginger baker come back out for sunshine of your love still struggling to catch his breath, and seemingly unable to stand up anymore, it's clear why they did the solo at the end. had they done it sooner, ginger would've had to take 2 or 3 songs off just to be ready to play again.

my seats were behind the stage, and it actually worked out alright. i got to be close to the stage, and hear the music plenty loud. my section didn't stand up all that much. after all the talk on phantasytour and in other places, i thought no one in the venue would be smoking, but sure enough, as soon as "i'm so glad" started, so did the smell of pot.

 
At 1:03 PM, Blogger Ace Cowboy said...

Allright, nice work Elliot, glad you enjoyed. There was definitely some doobage goin on in our section, but I still thought it was one of the more sober and sobering concerts I've been to.

Fun times, though. Definitely glad I went, and I'm sure I'll always look back with fondness at the show.

 
At 9:28 AM, Blogger offpeak34 said...

yeah for sure, it was an incredible experience that i wouldn't pass up at all.

can you picture phish playing to a crowd like that ever? it can't be normal for a band to come back after so many years and play to basically a different world.

 

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