The short-lived and explosive British power trio Cream left a crater-sized divot on the landscape of rock-and-roll in the late 1960s. In 1968, along with the Jimi Hendrix Experience, Cream was among the world’s most notable practitioners of psychedelic electric blues and rock, playing to sold-out crowds on both sides of the Atlantic. So, when the group announced that they were splitting up, but would undertake one final studio album and tour, it was quite a shock. Sort of.
The sparring between the three- guitarist Eric Clapton, bassist Jack Bruce, and drummer Ginger Baker- was well-known, and the fact that they lasted through two years and three albums prior to the Goodbye run was, at times, its own shock. They played together the same way they related to one another: with a mercurial sense of tension and release; concerts feeling like a battle of wills. But that volatility induced some serious musical firepower, immediately grabbing and holding the attention of the genre’s future; Ozzy and Tony Iommi were certainly aware; Hendrix and Duane Allman were definitely listening.
This four-CD compilation of four shows from that last tour, including a finale at London’s Royal Albert Hall, are performances mostly released for the first time. Some tracks have shown up on post-breakup live albums, but as complete appearances, this is a debut. And, it’s a treasure chest for any Cream fan. What is most rewarding, and revealed by this collection, is how much the band really jammed, improvised, and shifted from show to show. Eight to ten songs make up hour-plus sets; stretching was mandatory.
Furthermore, while Cream could just as easily tie-dye the frontal lobe with renditions of “White Room” or “Sunshine of Your Love,” they also brought the heavy on extended pieces of barbed-wire blues like “Politician” and “Spoonful.” In David Fricke’s terrific essay, he mentions a contemporaneous Rolling Stone review written by then-Brandeis student and future Bruce Springsteen manager, Jon Landau. The critique’s affecting line, for Clapton at least, was that the band was one-dimensional, with no use of dynamics.
By this point, Eric Clapton had been anointed God by the graffiti taggers in London’s tube stations. Certainly Jack Bruce and Ginger Baker were no less than apostles in their own right. What Landau may have missed- and what this blazing box set lays bare- is that God’s work is just as dimensional and dynamic in volcanos, tornados, and hurricanes as it is in meadows, streams, and sunsets.