Cream, Madison Square Garden, NYC- 10/25
Walking into Madison Square Garden on Tuesday, one could feel the sense of nostalgia in the air. The very sold out crowd was comprised of fans of all ages, however, with a median age in the 50s range, the audience could certainly be classified as "older." At the same time, flyers being distributed to crowd featured pictures of Cream in their 20s surrounded by psychedelic artwork reminiscent of art from the 1960's, reminding fans of exactly how old this band is. After all, Eric Clapton is 60 and he's the youngest of the three members. All of this, in conjunction with the fact that Cream in its heyday were only around for two years, lent to speculation about the quality of the ensuing shows, seemingly ignoring the fact that the three musicians were, at their peak, three of the finest musicians in the world, forming one of the best and most powerful bands in history. However, as soon as Ginger Baker, Jack Bruce and Eric Clapton took the stage and began playing, all doubts were put to rest.
The shows in New York were, not surprisingly, nearly identical to the London shows, which is irrelevant if you hadn’t seen the London shows, as virtually all in attendance had not. The sole difference from the London shows was the insertion of "Tales of a Brave Ulysses," perhaps one of Cream’s most beloved songs, the Tuesday version of which was every bit as exciting one would hope it to be. Of course, that was not out of step with the rest of the concert’s energy, which ranged from soaring to mesmerizing. Say what you will about their age and "relevance," but the 2005 Cream rocked the Garden inciting more than a few standing ovations. After warming via with the first three or four songs, Cream proceeded to lay waste to the Garden with the middle section of their show, comprised of legendary tracks such as "N.S.U." "Sleepy Time Time," "Badge," "Politician," "Sweet Wine," "Deserted Cities of the Heart" and a version of "Stormy Monday" that, in addition to being in the same time and following the same chord progression as "Have You Ever Loved A Woman," featuring a blistering guitar solo from Clapton that elicited the loudest ovation of the night. It’s hard to describe the emotions pulsating through the crowd as a result of this portion of the show, but to say that many in attendance were overwhelmed would be an understatement.
The band lost a little steam towards the end of the show (Jack Bruce’s hand cramped), with "White Room" being the least enjoyable song of the night as a result. As well, after a stunningly good drum solo from Ginger Baker (which rivals anything I’ve heard Neil Peart do) to close the show, the band returned to the stage for the obligatory "Sunshine of Your Love" encore, which suffered not only from the fatigue of the band members, but also as a result of Clapton’s use of his Strat, which he used all night and which does not pack the "oomph" necessary for a song such as this, as I found myself longing for the Gibson for the first time all night.
Walking out of the venue, I found myself contemplating the show with less scrutiny than I have applied to a show before. Why? Because I had been so thoroughly impressed, entertained and flat out bowled over with what had transpired on the stage. For me, Cream was always third in line behind Floyd and Zeppelin for bands that helped shape my high school and college years, and helped form my opinions on music, and my eventual approach to the guitar. As a result, the opportunity to see the band on stage was, in and of itself, a momentous occasion. With expectations so high, it would have been easy for the band to have let me down. But they did anything but. They delivered, and then some. When they band got together, they called themselves Cream because they were, quite literally, the Cream of the crop.
They may not be one of the best bands on earth anymore, but for one night, there wasn’t anyone else I would’ve rather seen.