Although the members of Cream (Eric Clapton, Ginger Baker and Jack Bruce) ran into a number of disagreements which led to the band breaking up, they at least kept themselves together enough to go out in style, playing a farewell tour before calling it quits (of course they ended up reuniting later). This "Farewell Concert" took place on November 26, 1968 at the Royal Albert Hall in London, where they would eventually perform again in 2005.
The Cream Farewell Concert (produced by Robert Stigwood, who of course went on to produce the biggest music-oriented films of the 1970s including Saturday Night Fever and Grease) has been released on home video a number of times, both in the form of the videotaped presentation as shown on BBC television, and a longer version shown theatrically with the videotaped footage transferred to film and two additional songs (Steppin' Out and Sitting on Top of the World) as well as a slightly different opening and closing than the TV version. Kino's new DVD presents the latter.
The film is introduced with narration by Patrick Allen (which the DVD's back cover describes as "charmingly inept"), who says that Cream have "given rock a musical authority which only the deaf cannot acknowledge." Allen makes more comments in between songs, and also interspersed are four backstage interview segments with the band members. Jack Bruce tells of frustrations with his music teacher as a kid (he wrote a string quartet at age 14, which the teacher didn't like), Eric Clapton demonstrates his guitar methods, and Ginger Baker does likewise with his drums. It's quite interesting to hear that these guys have backgrounds in classical music, as growing up I was usually told by my parents and teachers that classical was "real" music while rock was "garbage"- of course, that only made me like rock music that much more.
Many fans and the band members themselves have said that it wasn't their best. Regardless, it has for a long time been the only visual record of a complete Cream performance. The music is enjoyable for the most part, kicking off with "Sunshine of Your Love" which remains a radio mainstay to this day. Most of the songs last for several minutes, as the band goes into long instrumental stretches between the sung verses. After the backstage segment with Ginger Baker, we get to see him perform a very long drum solo on stage.
The concert is shot with many of the era's conventions, mainly lots of quick zooming in and out by the camera. There are very few long shots of the band on stage or of the audience, instead most of the show is dominated by close-ups which get to be disorienting after a while. Two songs are also accompanied by psychedelic liquid light over the picture, which definitely adds to the atmosphere.
Complete song listing is as follows: Sunshine of Your Love, White Room, Politician, Crossroads, Steppin' Out, Sitting on Top of the World, Spoonful, Toad, I'm So Glad
As mentioned earlier, the 4x3 presentation was taken from a film print consisting of footage originally shot on video (the backstage segments appear to have been shot on film.) Watching the result back on video looks a bit muddy and leaves one longing for the original video source at its native frame rate, but this is still faithful to how this version looked in theaters, and apparently the only source of the two songs that weren't included in the TV version. The film is in decent shape except for a bit of dirt and scratches at the beginning and end of reels.
Two Dolby Digital audio tracks are available, one in 5.1 and the other in 2-channel. Both are taken from the film's mono optical audio track, which is quite distorted. The 5.1 mix sad to say is a mess- during the music, it's expanded mostly to the front left and right with some sound in the center and surrounds, much like one of the "expanded surround" modes on audio receivers which I normally keep turned off. During the interview segments and Patrick Allen's voiceovers, the sound is driven to the center. The 2-channel mix still has a bit of processing to give it a "wider" sound than straight mono and isn't adjusted for the spoken parts- overall I found this track preferable to the 5.1 mix but a simple unaltered mono mix would have been much better. The 5.1 track ends with a blast of pink noise from the right rear channel as well, which scared my cat! From what I have seen of the TV version of this show from a videotape source, the audio quality on that was much better than what is presented here.
The Cream Farewell Concert is certainly worth checking out for its historical value, and while the music performances may not have been the band at its best, they're still better than the best performances of many contemporary groups. Given that this disc is a presentation of a videotape-to-film transfer with not-so-good audio, I would advise first-time viewers to seek out the older Image DVD of the TV version made from the video source, and completists of course will want to have both versions.
Check out DVDTalk's reviews of Cream's 2005 Royal Albert Hall concert on standard DVD and HD-DVD which has since also been released on Blu-Ray.