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Royal Albert Hall: London May 2-3-5-6 2005
     

Royal Albert Hall: London May 2-3-5-6 2005

3.5 4
by Cream
 
A Cream reunion was among the most hoped-for items on the collective classic rock wish list -- and, judging by the antipathy its members had shown toward the notion, one of the least likely to come to fruition. Despite the long odds, the planets aligned long enough in 2005 to bring Eric Clapton, Jack Bruce, and

Overview

A Cream reunion was among the most hoped-for items on the collective classic rock wish list -- and, judging by the antipathy its members had shown toward the notion, one of the least likely to come to fruition. Despite the long odds, the planets aligned long enough in 2005 to bring Eric Clapton, Jack Bruce, and Ginger Baker back together for a stint at London's Royal Albert Hall -- the site of the final show in their original incarnation -- that outstripped even the most optimistic forecasts. This two-disc set, which spans all four nights of the engagement, shines light on all sides of the Cream conundrum: the blues testifying, the musicianly jams, and even the underrated pop songcraft. A good portion of the collection is given over to the first aspect, with Clapton given wide berth to swing his most feral riffage like a lasso, snaring standards like "Spoonful" and "Born Under a Bad Sign" -- both of which peel back the years like an acid burning through years of paint. The passel of extended jams that vein the collection are equally effective in turning back the hands of time. On "Rollin' and Tumblin'," for instance, Bruce breaks out his harmonica to spar with Clapton, with no holds barred; "Deserted Cities of the Heart" dispenses with the 12-bar structure altogether in favor of a brawny take on psychedelia that -- while not as mind-bending as it may have seemed 30-some years ago -- still cracks open a few synapses. Most interesting of all, however, are the glimpses of succinct -- albeit high-volume -- pop offered up in versions of "White Room" and a flashy "Badge." The performances captured here make it easy to see why Cream earned so many accolades in their brief initial run; they also give off enough residual tension to make it clear that the trio ultimately had to split. At least they've left a proper farewell note this time.

Editorial Reviews

All Music Guide - Stephen Thomas Erlewine
For one reason or another, Cream reunited in the spring of 2005, setting aside nearly 40 years of acrimony for a series of gigs at the Royal Albert Hall in May, which was later followed by a few shows at Madison Square Garden about a month after souvenirs of the London shows -- a double-CD set and a double-DVD set -- were released. By that time, tickets for the New York concerts were long gone, which was understandable, since Cream had not only remained a legendary band, but it seemed extremely unlikely that they would ever play live again, so the chance to see the original power trio in the flesh was tempting. Fans who anxiously awaited this reunion might find the record of the event, bearing the unwieldy title Royal Albert Hall: London 2-3-5-6 2005, a bit anticlimactic, or a mixed blessing at the very least. The chemistry between guitarist/vocalist Eric Clapton, bassist/vocalist Jack Bruce, and drummer Ginger Baker is still palpable on this compilation of highlights from the four Royal Albert Hall shows -- it's just quite a bit more subdued than it was the last time they played together, which, discounting a one-off reunion at their 1993 induction to the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, was 36 years ago. That's a long time ago and the guys are no longer restless young psychedelic bluesmen -- at time of the concerts, Eric Clapton had just turned 60, Jack Bruce was a couple weeks shy of his 62nd birthday, Ginger Baker was 65. Of course, they're hardly the only group of '60s veterans who have remained active -- the Rolling Stones released a new album of material a month before this live album, and they're all in their sixties, but there's a big difference between the two bands, and that's that the Stones kept playing together throughout the past four decades. While all three members of Cream remained relatively active (Baker recently had retired to his ranch, but kept playing professionally into the '90s, even teaming up with Bruce on occasion), they never played a unit, so they're a little rusty in terms of inter-bandmember relations, which winds up making them sound their age. Not only do they never rock as hard as the Stones do on A Bigger Bang, but Cream never approximate the furious rush of energy that the band did at its prime and there's never a sense of the push-and-pull dynamics between the three members that made the best of their lengthy jams sound alive and at times unpredictable. Part of this is down to age, not just in the sense that they're a little bit older and a little bit slower, but because those four decades have changed their style a little. Baker is a tighter drummer, lacking the reckless, volatile energy that wound up either as thrilling or turgid. Bruce can't hit the high notes anymore and doesn't roam as much on the bass, but he still manages to dominate with his fluid instrumental and vocal phrasing; plus, his bass just sounds enormous, as if it could conquer the earth. Clapton plays like a millionaire with impeccable taste, yet in this stripped-down setting, he's forced to play more than he has in years; at times, he's too refined and relies on familiar licks -- plus, his reliance on a Strat over the Gibsons that fueled his Cream sound does give this a noticeable lack of heft, even if he gets a good approximation of his classic warm tone -- but there are times, like when he holds a single note longer than Neil Young on "Cinammon Girl," that he takes greater risks than he has in years. So, this winds up being not necessarily exciting, but it's far from embarrassing, either, and there's a certain sense of admiration in hearing the trio pull it together for a respectable performance. In no way does this replace the group's original studio albums -- or the excellent BBC Sessions or even the patchwork live albums they released just after their breakup -- but this does act as a nice coda to their brief career.

Product Details

Release Date:
10/04/2005
Label:
Reprise / Wea
UPC:
0093624941620
catalogNumber:
49416
Rank:
45567

Tracks

Album Credits

Performance Credits

Cream   Primary Artist
Ginger Baker   Drums,Vocals
Jack Bruce   Bass Guitar
Eric Clapton   Guitar,Vocals

Technical Credits

Willie Dixon   Composer
Skip James   Composer
Ginger Baker   Composer
William Bell   Composer
Jack Bruce   Composer
George Harrison   Composer
T-Bone Walker   Composer
Pete Brown   Composer
Eric Clapton   Composer
Simon Climie   Producer
Robert Johnson   Composer
Booker T. Jones   Composer
Muddy Waters   Composer
Mike Taylor   Composer
John Van Hamersveld   Cover Art,Drawing
Martyn Atkins   Director
Blind Joe Reynolds   Composer
James Pluta   Producer
Masaki Koike   Art Direction
John Beug   Executive Producer
Scooter Weintraub   Producer
Humberto Howard   Art Direction
Janet Godfrey   Composer

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Royal Albert Hall: London May 2-3-5-6 2005 3.5 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 4 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
disappointing live album. yes, their are some fine moments but that should at the least be expected with a 2 album effort. jack bruce was good, but eric Clapton's fender guitar doesn't have the bite as his Gibson's he used during Cream's reign. he had a leslie on stage but along with his wahwah peddle (for white room) he forgot to use it. underwhelming.
Guest More than 1 year ago
This rocks me like my back ain't got no bone! I ain't superstitious but the blues just crossed my trail, yes it did!! Is there a blue-er guitarist than EC? Is there a better blues shouter than Jack Bruce? Can anyone do a longer drum solo than my man Gingy? I think not! Most of these songs are long enough for my nurse to change my diaper, and I LOVE IT!!!
Guest More than 1 year ago
The Cream reunion CD is a success, but it does have flaws. Bruce, Baker, and Clapton sound fine. After a while, though, you wish that they had added keyboards or horns to a few songs to add some variety. The trio format is limiting even with such fine players. I think a few new songs or an unplugged number or two might also have added interest. In their heyday, the group experimented quite a bit. It’s too bad they didn’t take a chance or two. Still, it is good to hear Clapton push himself and play the type of guitar that made his reputation.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Without question, this set is one that requires you to listen through both discs at least 3-4 times, before you're pretty well hooked on these versions of the groups' classics. I didn't expect to hear Clapton's historical speed or Baker's earlier chops, but don't let that stop you. No, you won't hear Crossroads at the pace Clapton originally sped on the original live version, but you WILL enjoy a more subdued, blusey version that (like the acoustic version of Layla) compliments the classic rendition. In terms of the 2 CD's my preference is side 2, but the whole set is a great listen. Yes, I would like to have heard even more Clapton, but people, the work on Stormy Monday, Born Under A Bad Sign, Crossroads and the alternate take of Sleepy Time is a great return on investment. While I didn't expect Baker to fly across the kit at his previous pace, the fact is, he shows that it's technique (not speed) that makes the drum set sing. The only caveat (and yeah, this is winy), is the cheap flimsy case the CD's come in - pretty pathetic quality given the importance of the event itself. Enjoy.