|Cream Farewell Concert|
|Written by Dan Macintosh|
|Tuesday, 04 October 2005|
There are only 10 songs in total on this DVD, but many of these tunes are also certified classic rock staples. This set’s FM favorites include “Sunshine Of Your Love,” “White Room” and “Crossroads.” Still, there’s something special about watching these three instinctive musicians explore such familiar melodies, back when the songs were still relatively new entities.
One of the strangest aspects of this documentary-style concert video is Patrick Allen’s narration. He describes the intricacies of Cream’s music the way a chemist might analyze complex compounds. His voice is extremely formal, oh-so-British. Of course, in 1968, rock and roll was not nearly as omnipresent as it is now. Keep in mind that rock stars were still members of the counterculture, rather than the corporate spokespeople many of them are today. But listening to Allen is a bit like watching Mr. Rogers when he’s out on a field trip. Allen inquisitively discusses the rock music style the way humans might quiz aliens from outer space – if, of course, they ever had an actual encounter with such space beings.
Furthermore, Allen is heard talking with each Cream member one-on-one during this DVD. These interview segments include Clapton showing off a few of his favorite riffs and fills. What is better still, however, is a similar section with Ginger Baker. During his screen time, Baker admits that he doesn’t practice anymore. His brief drumming demonstration section reveals that he doesn’t really need the practice anyhow, as this demo leads right into his drum solo during the night’s concert. And while it’s convenient to call the drum solo one of rock music’s worst concert clichés, Baker’s lone skin work here is nevertheless well worth watching. This young man with bright red hair digs into his playing and just loses himself in it all. This is also one program stretch where the DTS Digital Sound function is absolutely essential. Because by the time Baker reaches the home stretch of his instrumental spotlight, right at the point where he’s crazily working his tom-tom drum, this music blasts out of the speakers like cannon shots.
Speaking of sound, Bruce’s bass work is also enhanced greatly by the superior sound quality of this disc. It’s been said that much of the music from the ‘60s was recorded for the way the songs would sound coming out of AM radios. But because radio sound is so trebly to begin with, it really isn’t conducive for presenting bassists. By the time FM came into its heyday, which happened in the ‘70s, Cream was already history. Just listen to Bruce’s work as it’s presented here, however. It’s crisp, melodic and inventive. When you also consider that Bruce was this trio’s primary vocalist, it’s amazing that he could both play and sing so well at the same time.
Oddly enough, Clapton comes off a distant third in the whole “lasting impression” category here. He may be a great guitarist, and one who was once even called “God” by a few misguided and overly enthusiastic music fans, but this recording just doesn’t present him at his best. It may be heresy to say this, but Derek & The Dominos, Clapton’s super-group formed in 1970 after the demise of Cream and then Blind Faith, offered a far better forum for Mr. Slowhand to stretch out and do his thing. Maybe it was fellow guitarist Duane Allman’s presence in The Dominos that spurred Clapton onto some of his greatest string work. But as the lone axe man here in Cream, Clapton also had to hold down a lot of its rhythm work, too, which may have limited the opportunities he had to really show off his stuff.
Such observations aside, this work also reveals how the blues has always been a large part of Clapton’s overall artistic inspiration. A full third of these tracks, in fact, are blues covers. These selections include “Crossroads,” “Sitting On Top Of The World” and “Spoonful.” So anybody who thinks Clapton has somehow turned to playing the blues in his advanced age hasn’t really studied his early catalogue too well. There’s also something special about the way the blues is played here. As Bruce explains at one point – at a juncture when that pesky narrator Allen is asking about the affect of rock volume on human hearing – this Cream music was created right as musicians were beginning to experiment with the kind of power that would eventually mutate into heavy metal. These aren’t the faithful blues covers that Clapton presented early in his career, nor are they the more relaxed takes he would mine in latter years. Instead, this music was something still relatively new at the time. It would be hard to imagine a group like Led Zeppelin ever existing had Cream not come along first. Zeppelin took Cream’s original template and filled it in with that band’s unique blues-inspired hard rock.
Along the way, Cream members speak out enthusiastically on camera about the joys of improvising. In fact, Bruce mentions that the group – much like any good jazz combo – only knows where each song begins and ends. The middle parts are then totally made up as they go along. With that said, however, something like “White Room” suffers in comparison to its majestic studio recorded version. It’s just difficult on stage to imitate the dynamics and airtight arrangement that made this such a pivotal rock recording.
For those who may have been raised in the MTV and post-MTV generation, watching this Cream DVD might well be an educational experience. This was an era, after all, before theatrical rock and spectacle rock came into vogue. So it captures three hardworking musicians, hard at work. Rumor has it that Cream is toying with a reunion. And based upon this historical look back, it’s hard to argue with such a plan. But even if these guys decide not to have another go at it, the “Cream Farewell Concert” offers a beautiful peek into a beautifully creative time. Despite some of this DVD’s psychedelic camerawork, this is a collection of inspired live music that still somehow comes off as timeless.