October 27th, 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.
So the house lights go down, the crowd goes up, and the band is on stage, after more than 3 decades.
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.
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.
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.