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 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.

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 … 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.

If you want some more reviews of the show, click here. This post can also be seen on own blog, Slack LaLane.

24 COMMENTS

  1. Come on, Ace. I’m not one to call just ANY show “epic,” but I feel like last night pretty much lived up to expectations. And I like to think that I’m a pretty tough grader, too. I’m the same guy who feels Umphrey’s couldn’t be more overrated (“JaJunk” is just about on “JaMoney.”) Sure Clapton was huge, but I thought Ginger Baker sounded fantastic, considering he is, as you pointed, old. (Jack is clearly the weak link. Can I get you another Wild Turkey, Mr. Bruce?) If you went in expecting 1968, then you were disappointed, in the same way that if you go to see the 70 Volt Parade expecting to hear Alumni Blues, you’ll be disappointed – it’s just not gonna happen. What I expected to see were blues legends (yes they are) playing the standards with some definitive highlights (Stormy Monday) and lowlights (outside of that harmonica crap Jack pulled out, White Room was the worst tune), and that’s what I got.

  2. Come on, Ace. I’m not one to call just ANY show “epic,” but I feel like last night pretty much lived up to expectations. And I like to think that I’m a pretty tough grader, too. I’m the same guy who feels Umphrey’s couldn’t be more overrated (“JaJunk” is just about on “JaMoney.”) Sure Clapton was huge, but I thought Ginger Baker sounded fantastic, considering he is, as you pointed, old. (Jack is clearly the weak link. Can I get you another Wild Turkey, Mr. Bruce?) If you went in expecting 1968, then you were disappointed, in the same way that if you go to see the 70 Volt Parade expecting to hear Alumni Blues, you’ll be disappointed – it’s just not gonna happen. What I expected to see were blues legends (yes they are) playing the standards with some definitive highlights (Stormy Monday) and lowlights (outside of that harmonica crap Jack pulled out, White Room was the worst tune), and that’s what I got.

  3. Based on your comment, Chilly, I don’t think we came away thinking very different thoughts. We just expressed them differently.

    I mean, I said it was a great night, I enjoyed it thoroughly, all that jazz. But I think it would be somewhat foolish to say this was a crazy experience with impeccable musical highlights — those were few and far between. I guess I just expected those jam parts in Badge and White Room and Crossroads to show up, and they just weren’t there.

    Look, don’t think this is a totally negative review…maybe I need to re-think my writing style if you did. I just thought I’d try and be a little truthful this morning, instead of just blindly glowing about a group of guys that are old as s***.

  4. Based on your comment, Chilly, I don’t think we came away thinking very different thoughts. We just expressed them differently.

    I mean, I said it was a great night, I enjoyed it thoroughly, all that jazz. But I think it would be somewhat foolish to say this was a crazy experience with impeccable musical highlights — those were few and far between. I guess I just expected those jam parts in Badge and White Room and Crossroads to show up, and they just weren’t there.

    Look, don’t think this is a totally negative review…maybe I need to re-think my writing style if you did. I just thought I’d try and be a little truthful this morning, instead of just blindly glowing about a group of guys that are old as s***.

  5. ace – don’t be so apologetic for having an opinion! i would much rather read an honest review than one that glorifies the artists and glosses over their imperfections. after all, it’s the imperfections that make talking about this stuff interesting. just because it wasn’t all praise doesn’t mean it’s a negative review.

  6. ace – don’t be so apologetic for having an opinion! i would much rather read an honest review than one that glorifies the artists and glosses over their imperfections. after all, it’s the imperfections that make talking about this stuff interesting. just because it wasn’t all praise doesn’t mean it’s a negative review.

  7. Hey Ace…not trying to flame you at all. You know I got nothing but love for you and anyone who gives their honest opinion about music. I was just giving mine. It looks like more people are with you, anyway (did you see the NY Times review? “Watch the DVD”??? Ouch.) Let’s say we work it all out at Coda next month. How does that sound? Keep rockin’ the short shorts.

  8. Hey Ace…not trying to flame you at all. You know I got nothing but love for you and anyone who gives their honest opinion about music. I was just giving mine. It looks like more people are with you, anyway (did you see the NY Times review? “Watch the DVD”??? Ouch.) Let’s say we work it all out at Coda next month. How does that sound? Keep rockin’ the short shorts.

  9. Problem is they can’t compete with their fans’ memories. See, you missed the jam in Badge, but fact is, there never was a jam in Badge because they never played in live before the reunion. Okay, they’re not 20 years old, and save for a time machine, they can’t go back. This is who they are now. The Cream of the 60s was fueled by their youth and arrogance and that was great but let’s not dismiss what their age, wisdom and experience brings to the music. Rock music steeped in jazz and blues, two forms of music often played by old men. A different perspective but no less valid. They are still brilliant musicians.

  10. Problem is they can’t compete with their fans’ memories. See, you missed the jam in Badge, but fact is, there never was a jam in Badge because they never played in live before the reunion. Okay, they’re not 20 years old, and save for a time machine, they can’t go back. This is who they are now. The Cream of the 60s was fueled by their youth and arrogance and that was great but let’s not dismiss what their age, wisdom and experience brings to the music. Rock music steeped in jazz and blues, two forms of music often played by old men. A different perspective but no less valid. They are still brilliant musicians.

  11. Jack Bruce, Ginger Baker, Eric Clapton. I started playing drums in ’70 when I was 15, 2 years after they broke-up. I never thought they’d get back together. I was not disapointed I was there on Monday night and loved it. The main thing I noticed is that Ginger sounded as if he hadn’t listened to any of the songs in 30 years. In fact some of the songs sounded as if he hadn’t ever played them before. Ginger was clearly the weakest-link. Jack on the pther hand was brilliant though a little too laid-back. His voice proved he is still one of the top four singers in the history of rock ( along with Leslie West, Roger Daltrey and Paul Rogers). What can you say about Clapton? He never sounded better. Just don’t forget who wrote most of their songs and sang most of their songs – JACK BRUCE!

  12. Jack Bruce, Ginger Baker, Eric Clapton. I started playing drums in ’70 when I was 15, 2 years after they broke-up. I never thought they’d get back together. I was not disapointed I was there on Monday night and loved it. The main thing I noticed is that Ginger sounded as if he hadn’t listened to any of the songs in 30 years. In fact some of the songs sounded as if he hadn’t ever played them before. Ginger was clearly the weakest-link. Jack on the pther hand was brilliant though a little too laid-back. His voice proved he is still one of the top four singers in the history of rock ( along with Leslie West, Roger Daltrey and Paul Rogers). What can you say about Clapton? He never sounded better. Just don’t forget who wrote most of their songs and sang most of their songs – JACK BRUCE!

  13. Are you Jack Bruce’s son?! Actually, I thought he was a lot better than people gave him credit for after the show. I also thought Ginger was the weakest link, but to each his own.

    Still, glad I went, I had a ball.

  14. Are you Jack Bruce’s son?! Actually, I thought he was a lot better than people gave him credit for after the show. I also thought Ginger was the weakest link, but to each his own.

    Still, glad I went, I had a ball.

  15. Never being a humongous fan of Cream, I’m surprised to see that this show didn’t really blow anyone’s socks off. Everything I’ve read about these shows is either very generic or very unimpressed.

    Well, that’s not true, actually. I did just talk to a guy that was in the MSG box on Monday night and he said it was great. It’s all in the perspective, but I’m sure free drinks, tickets, and desserts probably help, too.

  16. Never being a humongous fan of Cream, I’m surprised to see that this show didn’t really blow anyone’s socks off. Everything I’ve read about these shows is either very generic or very unimpressed.

    Well, that’s not true, actually. I did just talk to a guy that was in the MSG box on Monday night and he said it was great. It’s all in the perspective, but I’m sure free drinks, tickets, and desserts probably help, too.

  17. I, for one (not really just one), thoroughly enjoyed the Monday Night concert.

    I got into Cream when I was about 11. I used to go to sleep with a transistor under my pillow and one morning, I woke up and knew every word to “White Room.” Unfortunately, “Goodby” soon came out and Cream was no more.

    Never in my wildest dreams did I ever think I’d have the chance to see Cream. I did. I’m happy.

  18. I, for one (not really just one), thoroughly enjoyed the Monday Night concert.

    I got into Cream when I was about 11. I used to go to sleep with a transistor under my pillow and one morning, I woke up and knew every word to “White Room.” Unfortunately, “Goodby” soon came out and Cream was no more.

    Never in my wildest dreams did I ever think I’d have the chance to see Cream. I did. I’m happy.

  19. Just found Ace’s psychotic review of the Cream show irksome, and feel compelled to add my two cents. To be clear, I’m a fan and a drummer, with Ginger as my first significant influence when I was 9 years old, wearing out my used tag-sale copy of ‘Wheels Of Fire’ in 1972. So this feedback will be colored by that viewpoint.

    I say ‘psychotic’ because there is indeed a totally two-sided sensibility to the review which made me kind of cock my head to one side and go, “hah?”

    Here’s the particular bit that made me feel like this was more ‘attack’ than ‘critique.’ And this part followed tepid-yet-enthusiastic words about the show. Ace writes: “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.”

    This rather brutal, un-funny verbal assault on Ginger and Jack was just plain silly (by the way–Ginger Baker suffers from debilitating arthritis, Jack Bruce has survived 2 liver transplants).

    Our US/Euro culture worships youthfulness, sweeps the natural aging process as far out of view as possible, and has an ever-growing obsession with Botox and the false-looking appearance of being frozen in time. When older guys show up and play with the restraint and space that age teaches us (and yes, of course, just older, worn bodies figure into the mix), they are panned by Ace as being lobotomized, “dead”, and what have you. And then, laughably, he praises the “spry” and “so together” Clapton. Well, I’m no more an expert than Ace, even though I’ve been a pro drummer for over 20 years. But I’ve always felt that Clapton, though great when he’s great, is rather stiff and pre-fab in his soloing overall–even during the early days of Cream. Sorry, guitar-god worshippers, but I just don’t think he shines quite as brightly if you put him next to Elmore James, Hendrix, and others.

    For your own sanity and well-being, Ace–I hope you can break out of our culture’s fixation on 20-something people.

  20. Just found Ace’s psychotic review of the Cream show irksome, and feel compelled to add my two cents. To be clear, I’m a fan and a drummer, with Ginger as my first significant influence when I was 9 years old, wearing out my used tag-sale copy of ‘Wheels Of Fire’ in 1972. So this feedback will be colored by that viewpoint.

    I say ‘psychotic’ because there is indeed a totally two-sided sensibility to the review which made me kind of cock my head to one side and go, “hah?”

    Here’s the particular bit that made me feel like this was more ‘attack’ than ‘critique.’ And this part followed tepid-yet-enthusiastic words about the show. Ace writes: “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.”

    This rather brutal, un-funny verbal assault on Ginger and Jack was just plain silly (by the way–Ginger Baker suffers from debilitating arthritis, Jack Bruce has survived 2 liver transplants).

    Our US/Euro culture worships youthfulness, sweeps the natural aging process as far out of view as possible, and has an ever-growing obsession with Botox and the false-looking appearance of being frozen in time. When older guys show up and play with the restraint and space that age teaches us (and yes, of course, just older, worn bodies figure into the mix), they are panned by Ace as being lobotomized, “dead”, and what have you. And then, laughably, he praises the “spry” and “so together” Clapton. Well, I’m no more an expert than Ace, even though I’ve been a pro drummer for over 20 years. But I’ve always felt that Clapton, though great when he’s great, is rather stiff and pre-fab in his soloing overall–even during the early days of Cream. Sorry, guitar-god worshippers, but I just don’t think he shines quite as brightly if you put him next to Elmore James, Hendrix, and others.

    For your own sanity and well-being, Ace–I hope you can break out of our culture’s fixation on 20-something people.

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