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 F*cking 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. Sheeet, 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.
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 … 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 f*&k out of my seats. These are my f*&king seats. Get the f*&k out. Seriously, I paid for these seats, get the f*&k out of here. Yo, get the f*&k 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. F that kid … Badge and Politician, I’m still smiling about that. Awesome.