Today should be a national holiday. No, an international holiday. Hell, the entire known universe should get today off from work so they can celebrate.
There is a new Cream album!
Well… sort of. It’s a four disc set that includes four shows from a stretch of US tour in 1968. It’s called Goodbye Tour Live 1968, but I don’t think it’s from the last tour, I think these shows are pre-Wheels of Fire, but I don’t know the dates so I can’t say for sure.
A lot of this stuff has already been released. I’m only four songs into my first listen and already there are two that I recognize. White Room and Politician from the Oakland show are from Live Cream Vol II… I think. White Room definitely is, Politician might be from Goodbye, but I’ll have to check on that. I’m pretty sure it’s from vol. II though. I’m guessing most of those early ’70’s live records came from these shows. Did Wheels of Fire’s second disc? I don’t know, but we’ll find out. The first versions of Crossroads and Spoonful (I’m up to disc one, track five now) are not from Wheels of Fire, and I’m hearing them for the first time right now. Crossroads sounds so under-rehearsed that they might have all been playing a different song (not really). Spoonful sounds awesome.
Come and celebrate with me. New Cream! Rest in peace Jack Bruce, rest in peace Ginger Baker, and if the universe makes a move on Eric Clapton I’ll lose my shit in epic fashion. Let’s all work together to keep our last surviving member of Cream safe and healthy for as long as we can, okay?
Addendum: I misspoke… mistyped? whatever. It’s not four US shows, it’s three. Oakland Coliseum, Los Angeles Forum, and San Diego Sports Arena. The fourth disc is from the final show at the Royal Albert Hall in London. I’m hoping it’s not a straight pull from the movie soundtrack because I’ve always been disappointed in the sound quality. I’m still on disc one, track five (a 16:46 take of Spoonful) so it will be a while before I find out.
Addendum II: Definitely not pre-Wheels of Fire. I should have known. Deserted Cities of the Heart from the Oakland show is the same as Live Cream vol II and Clapton introduces it as a “another one from Wheels of Fire.” Duh.
Addendum III: Looking at the track list last week the one song that jumped out at me was Passing the Time. I couldn’t imagine how they would work that one live as it seems very much a studio project to me. What I didn’t notice was that Toad is not listed on the Oakland show. That probably would have clued me in to what’s coming. Passing the Time starts out roughly similar to the album arrangement (again, sounding woefully under-rehearsed) but instead of going into the first verse they jump right to the jam in the middle and then… drum solo. A long drum solo. My first thought was, will this show have two drum solos? What about Toad? That’s when I peeked ahead. They did this instead of Toad. Ah, I get it now.
Addendum IV: I’m So Glad from the Los Angeles show is definitely the same as the version on Goodbye. It is just as freakin’ amazing as you remembered. More importantly, Sitting on Top of the World from Los Angeles is also the same as Goodbye. When guitar groups on Facebook ask everyone to list their favorite guitar solos, Sitting on Top of the World from Goodbye is usually one of the songs on my short list. I’ve already listened to Politician from the L.A. show but it didn’t jump out at me as being familiar. I might have to double back to that one.
Addendum V: Sunshine of Your Love from the Los Angeles show might be the best version ever. Clapton is on fire. There’s one interesting spot where Ginger Baker might have colossally screwed up, but like the jazz cat his was at heart he rolled with it and turned it into something really cool. There’s also a moment when the bass disappears from the mix. Was Jack Bruce having equipment issues, or is this one of those moments when one of the band members would stop playing and the other two wouldn’t even notice?
Ah, at the end of the song Clapton apologizes to the audience for the technical problem. I guess he did notice! Who said these guys weren’t paying attention to each other!
Addendum VI: Disc 2 track 10, Spoonful from the Los Angeles show. Three word review: Clapton is God. Now an alternate two word review: Holy Shit! This is why they were the best live band on Earth. This is all you need to listen to. Wow.
Addendum VII: The San Diego show on disc three is the weakest of the US shows by far. There are moments when they sound almost lazy and disinterested. After all the years I spent reading about how this band fell apart in its last few months, this is more like what I was expecting the whole box set to sound like. The Los Angeles show being as good as it is was almost a surprise to me. There are some stellar moments on disc three though. I’m So Glad is played with an intensity that was unlike any version I’d heard before. The jamming in Spoonful is incredible. Clapton does a thing where he shreds for a bar, then switches to a warp speed version of the rhythm part for a bar and then repeats the pattern for a long time. It’s a technique that Jack Bruce actually used all the time to allow him to improvise like a maniac and still hold the bass line. It’s pretty cool. It’s followed almost immediately by a (very) near train wreck as they completely butcher the transition from the jam back into the song. Clapton misses his part altogether, but manages to hold on. Bruce then does some really nice messing with the vocal melody on the last chorus. It’s cool.
Addendum VIII: The London show is the movie soundtrack and it sounds just as atrocious as you’d expect. It’s bootleg quality. It almost sounds like someone set up a mic in the lobby and let it run. That’s a little disappointing. I know the performance is going to be outstanding, as they did go out with a bang, but I probably will never listen to this disc again.
Addendum IX: I’ve finished listening to the whole set. All four discs. Yes the London show sounds like shit, but the performance… oh my god. During Baker’s drum solo on Toad it felt to me like I was listening to someone who didn’t want it to end. Given the way he hammered his way into Blind Faith a few months later, that’s probably true.
That last show was in November 1968. It was roughly two and a half years before I was born. I wasn’t even a twinkle in my daddy’s eye at that point, as the saying goes. Why then did I find myself feeling a little sad as they were bomb blasting their way through the last song, Stepping Out? I knew it was the last moment in their collective career. I knew that they knew it too. Sure they got back together briefly a couple of times, and the London shows in 2005 were amazing (I haven’t heard the New York shows that followed, but rumor has it they were less than stellar), but this was it. It was over and even though it was a little more than 51 years ago I was sad that it was ending.
I am such a tool.
I seem to recall one of them, Jack Bruce I think, saying something like as they were all back stage after the last show if one of them had decided to change their mind the others would have agreed and they could have continued. Knowing what I know about the state of mind Eric Clapton was in at the time there is no way he would have suggested it. He was the one who broke them up in the first place. Still… it’s a nice thought in an alternate universe kinda way. What would have happened if they had stuck around another couple of years.
In closing, I went back and listened to the Los Angeles show again and Politician is definitely the same as the version on Goodbye. It makes sense that they would use the best of the shows for their last official/first posthumous release. Sunshine of Your Love from that show is definitely the best version I’ve ever heard, even with the bass dropping out here and there. You can almost hear Clapton and Baker communicating telepathically during the jam… Jack’s having problem, let’s just keep going until they get it straightened out. That’s exactly what they did. Ginger tried reigning it in and Eric just took over. It would have been better if there was bass all the way through, but even with that hole it still sounds incredible.