Cream, Live in New York City, 2005

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In honor of the passing of the great Jack Bruce, The Rock File revisits its review of the 2005 Cream reunion concert at Madison Square Garden.
Cream
October 27, 2005
Madison Square Garden
New York City
The last time Cream played together was 1968, or 37 years ago.
I have friends that old (you know who you are).
The Royal Albert Hall shows this past spring have already passed into myth. The resurrected Cream, by all accounts, losing no steam, defying their age. The reviews were of a fiery, edgy band returning to form.
What to expect then from the New York City shows?
Getting tickets was a problem. American Express has this damn pre-sale policy that, well…
The three MSG shows were sold out in something like 11 minutes (said the nice Ticketmaster lady over the phone). Next stop, eBay. Too much money of course, but that wasn’t the point.
“Hey, what the fuck? It’s only money”
– Bill Durand
So we were psyched to get tickets at all. And they were good seats too.
I bought some hideous binoculars off the street for cheap. They were camo and covered in little army icons. I felt like an idiot hauling them into The Garden, but they paid off (I could see the boys on stage smile at each other when they nailed an ending…cool!)
Of course The Garden was filled with the old rock crowd. Of course they brought their kids to turn them on to “The Cream” (as they were originally known) and to cheer the return of their old heroes.
I brought my parents (and they brought me) cause they turned me on sometime in high school and I’ve been listening to Cream ever since.
Dad and I bought concert T’s, in the old tradition. I had that moment when I thought I should have bought option H, but realized option G was the better choice. I still owe my dad the 15 bucks he lent me to pay off the shirt (they are no longer just 15 bucks).
I of course wore mine the next day, and for most of the week. I’m still afraid to put it in the laundry.
We found our seats and wondered if the guy who sold them to us was sitting right next to us. We couldn’t really tell. It didn’t matter.
I told my mom that people were substituting cell phones for the Old Lighter Trick during last months McCartney show. In fact, the Old Lighter Trick was born during the original arena rock shows ushered in by Dylan and The Band on their ’74 tour, which made a stop at The Garden, and my folks were there. And so it goes.
And now…
So the house lights go down, the crowd goes up, and the band is on stage, after more than 3 decades.
Awesome.
The set list is classic Cream. Hell, they haven’t written a new song since 1968, so what else could it be? There wasn’t a song that was missing.
Not one.
Ginger Baker (drums) is somewhere in his mid-sixties (the far end), but he had no problem with a 20-minute drum solo. I’m not sure I’ve heard a drum solo in the past two decades. I say, bring ‘em back. It was cool. Bill was pissed we weren’t close enough to catch the sticks he threw out at the end of the solo. When he hobbled off the kit at the end of the show, his back was aching. You could tell.
There were two moments I noticed that he fucked up a break, which was hilarious. Ginger Baker fucking up a break. At a time in the mid sixties, the best damn rock drummer around, and I get to see him screw one up. Clapton looked back at him mid song and urged him on, getting the next verse right. At the end of the tune, he smiled and they all had a laugh.
Jack Bruce (bass, vocals, harp, main songwriter) looked like death. But his voice hit those “Strange Brew” highs with no problem, and his bass playing (fretted and fretless) was as agile as ever. Not a bad note to these 35 year-old ears. Instead of the requisite beers on top of his amp, he had a series of fruit juices. No shit, fruit juice. He also had an inhaler. The guy is not doing so well.
Eric Clapton (guitar, vocals, God) was simply amazing. I believe he gets better with age. He was all economy and tonal elegance. The brief pause during “Badge” (the song Clapton co-wrote with his buddy George Harrison – before stealing his wife) was so long that the audience HAD to stand and cheer and feel MOVED. It was an awesome moment.
There were moments like this throughout the whole show. Too numerous to count really. They played most of their recorded material (they were only around from ’66 to ’68) and everything sounded fresh.
The show ended with “Sunshine of Your Love” (which Clapton wrote after first hearing Hendrix) and it was raw and heavy. Everybody stood, sang, and got off on it.
Cool.
I almost forgot:
The pre-show entertainment was the house PA playing tracks exclusively from 1968; The Stones’ Beggars Banquet, the Beatles’ White Album, Hendrix’s Electric Ladyland, etc.
It was exactly what we were there for.
Setlist
I’m So Glad
Spoonful
Outside Woman Blues
Pressed Rat and Wart Hog
Sleepy Time Time
Tales of Brave Ulysses
N.S.U.
Badge
Politician
Sweet Wine
Rollin’ and Tumblin’
Call It Stormy Monday (But Tuesday Is Just as Bad)
Deserted Cities of the Heart
Born Under a Bad Sign
We’re Going Wrong
Cross Road Blues
Sitting on Top of the World
White Room
Toad
Sunshine of Your Love
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Good Night Jack Bruce

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Heavy Metal As Positive Child Development

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So I drive my son to school in the morning, and he’s been riding shotgun, so he gets to play disc jockey. Our jalopy is an old beater that’s outfitted with a late model 5-disc player. The commute takes about 20 minutes, which is the perfect amount of time to really sink into an album, or get through a side one of an old favorite.
Lately the kid’s been picking some pretty heavy stuff—YOB, High On Fire, Goatess—which is perfect for that I’m on my way to school and I need to get my shit in gear sort of vibe. At 7:30 Central European Time, we like our wake-up call fast, hard and loud.
So this morning we’re well into The Great Cessation by YOB, and out of nowhere, he starts to free associate…
“Daddy, this song sounds like a really loud forest.”
“Or maybe like an exploding volcano, or wait…a knight battle!”
Sure does, brother.
So I pick up the thread and say something like “or maybe sheets of rain, during a heavy storm?”
He’s in complete agreement. Our imaginations are running wild.
This goes on through several songs on the album, until we roll up to the school parking lot.
With the windows down and YOB crashing out of the cockpit at epic volume, I somehow feel half my age, and I’m secretly cherishing the looks of bemusement from those other parents going about their morning routines.
Damn, what a fun ride to school…
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Ozzy vs. Genesis

Your humble Rock File scribe, right, circa 1984, wearing a Genesis Mama Tour concert T-shirt, with buddy Rob rocking one of his Ozzy tour shirts.
Rob definitely won the cool contest that day.
I still listen to Genesis. I wonder if Rob still listens to Ozzy?
I sure hope so.
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Delirium in Brussels, 2014

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Swans
Ancienne Belgique
Brussels, Belgium
September 25, 2014
The Rock File recently relocated its headquarters from New York City to Brussels, Belgium, from the New World to the Old World. And yes, we’ve heard “Why the hell did you move to Brussels from New York?” more than a few times since arriving, but there’s plenty of great music this side of the pond and we’re not here to complain. So here we are and here we go…
Swans haven’t got it easy.
Their self-professed mission is nothing short of total transcendence, complete ecstasy—for the audience, for the band, and for anyone who happens to give a shit about truly transformative art in 2014.
So when I heard Swans would be bringing their New York Noise to the Kingdom of Belgium, I realized that my transition to the European terroir would be best served by an audio assault by one of the most vital and intense bands currently exploring the outer regions of the audio big bang paradigm, so to speak.
I’m traveling alone tonight, without my trusty mates from back home, and as it’s my first concert experience in my new adopted city, I’m eager to get lost in the blind alleys of Brussels and stumble upon new mysteries, new sagas. So a stroll through the ancient streets in and around the Grand Place is in order, and it’s packed with seekers of all kinds, people flowing in and out of time and rhythm of this damp European night. I trip into an old Belgian beer hall, tucked away in a tiny trench of an alley, and it’s cozy and welcoming to this humble American. The beer list is massive and I’m immediately overwhelmed. I notice a lovely leather-bound booklet, which of course is a proper beer menu, pages upon pages of Belgian brews, most of which I’ve never heard of. Noticing my bemusement and intense interest, the bartender offers help, in a heavy Eastern European accent—“this beer is monk molotov cocktail, yes?”—and pours me something into a pear-shaped glass that’s seemingly nameless, it’s just a spigot from a tap.
Let’s just say pre-show mystery beer number one rocked my provincial American mind like Excalibur to the stone and left me wanting more, but I had to keep exploring, so I made my way to a close quarters rathskeller, all burnt orange and stained glass allegory. I’m thinking something by the Trappist order is indeed in order once again—with all the gothic alchemy that comes along with beer made by monks, following centuries-old formulas and processes and the Strict Observance and all, but more importantly because the largest amount of authentic Trappist breweries can be found right here in Belgium—so I think I’ll have a Rochefort 10, alc/vol 11.3%.
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And it’s every bit as lovely as it looks.
I (somehow) make my way to Ancienne Belgique, and after getting situated and scoring a large-sized Jupiler for the show, I head in and find myself front and center, ready for my first live concert experience in Europe. Let the mayhem begin…
Percussionist Thor is first to the stage. He’s definitely grown more body hair since the last show I attended. He conjures the gong for what feels like eternity and it’s a barrage of metallic fury. The rest of the band emerge and begin to create a sort of kinetic noise sculpture, finding a groove in a long simmering, icey fjord soundscape. Stretches of sound contort into a pounding, relentless new composition, “Frankie M.”
…the weed is simply everywhere, it surrounds me, and maybe that’s to be expected, because doesn’t Belgium share a border with weed-loving Holland?
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“A Little God in My Hands” is terrifying in its intensity, and it’s also suspiciously funky. Christoph Hahn is physically attacking his lap steel and I’m thinking I may need to back away from the stage, but I move closer, take out my earplugs, and let it all in. The extremes—emotional, musical—are being pummeled and there’s seemingly no end to how far Swans are willing to go for the ecstatic mission.
…I drop my empty plastic beer cup on the floor, as is standard operating procedure in the New York concert going rock scene, but here in Brussels I guess that’s just not what you do, as I get some cold stares, so I pick up the cup and hold it for the rest of the show. Sorry girls/guys. And this gets me thinking, on the tram ride home, that maybe its time to revisit that tradition/bad habit of ditching your plastic beer cup on the floor.
“The Apostate” is stunning and untouchable—Michael Gira’s body is speaking in twisted tongues, and Swans are obliterating the moment.
swans3
…it’s a good thing I brought my ear plugs all the way from New York because, god damn, the planet is exploding. In fact, some people are holding their ears, even though they’ve got plugs, because it’s that fucking loud.
The finale of “Bring the Sun/Black Hole Man” turns into an epic, Velvet Underground gets trampled in a late night drunken brawl outside Penn Station rave-up, which gets the audience dancing and slamming. It’s surreal, and beautiful, and a fitting end to a brutal but sublime night of live music.
…it dawns on me that noone, and I mean not one person in the whole fucking hall, is using their phone. It’s actually shocking—after years of having to do battle with the smartphone generation—that there’s absolutely no gadget distraction. I may have missed the sign on the way in, or maybe it’s the polite Belgian vibe that I’ve been hearing about, but it’s a major revelation, and a welcome one at that. I do my best to snap a few choice, unobtrusive pics.
Swans live is a singular experience—there’s nothing remotely like them this side of the mapped universe. I’ll continue to see Swans as much as humanly possible, as long as the mission is still critical and the soul journey is available to anyone who wants to take out the earplugs.
Setlist
Frankie M
A Little God In My Hands
The Apostate
Just a Little Boy
Don’t Go
Bring the Sun / Black Hole Man
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Hard Rocking the Heaphones, 1978

Can anybody guess what album I’m rocking under those huge cans? The album cover is leaning against the wall in the lower right hand corner of the photo.
Hint:
It’s a greatest hits double!
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Dead Man’s Switch, 1974

This is the sound of New York City. Best score ever?
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