Occasionally, it takes events such as the farewell concert of Cream to remind one about the tenuous nature of life. I had always thought the event was some mythical happening only a few people had witnessed. But upon further reflection, said event is not that much older than me, and this year marks the 45th anniversary of the band's farewell concert, and Kino has chosen to give the disc some more attention presumably as part of the celebration.
For those unfamiliar with the band, Cream was formed by drummer Ginger Baker, who decided to recruit former Yardbirds guitarist Eric Clapton, and in a bit of a surprise, brought in bassist and vocalist Jack Bruce to round the trio out. This was a surprise because Baker, who while respecting Bruce's technical impeccability, had famously been acrimonious to Bruce. When the two were in the band the Graham Bond Organisation, the eventual end of the band was when Baker pulled a knife on Bruce (the incident is recounted by both in the excellent Baker bio-documentary Beware of Mr. Baker). Those feelings were put aside for the beginnings of Cream.
And for a while, things were good. The band's mix of jazz, blues and rock was key in their sound, and while the band was only in existence two years, they released four albums that are still considered staples in the music collection (in "Fresh Cream," "Disraeli Gears," "Wheels of Fire" and "Goodbye"). As the band wore on, the feelings between Baker and Bruce resurfaced, and Clapton served as the go-between for both until he became weary of doing so, and the band decided on a farewell tour in 1968, with the final date at London's Royal Albert Hall. The set list includes the following songs:
"Sunshine of Your Love"
"Sitting on Top of The World"
"I'm So Glad"
Never having seen the concert before, the thing that surprised me was the narration of it. Done by someone named Patrick Allen, he provides an almost paternal tone to things between the songs, even talking about the scientific studies about the hazards of loud music without the faintest bit of irony. He does not interview the band members but he serves as the introductory piece for learning more about each individual member's technique and how they performed onstage with the other members.
As far as the performance goes, one can sense the tension between the musicians, with Baker and Bruce sharing perhaps one last passive aggressive swipe at the other on what should be a celebration of sorts for both. And yet, even with the closing song serving as an ‘au revoir' for all of the members, the end date of the last tour one could sense the palpable relief by all involved.
Someone once said about a professional sports Hall of Fame that ideally, it should be full of people who you would want to see play today, rather than see a bunch of people holding on to some sort of vanity or thrill and potentially inducing pity on their behalf. Cream featured young, technically polished and superbly adept musicians individually who collectively seemed to define capturing lightning in a bottle. While they went on to varying degrees of post-band success, seeing them in this context is a joy to see, both regardless of the circumstance and after all this time.
1.33:1 video, which is not surprising considering the source of said material. There are some flaws inherent in the material from age, as it's not the prettiest girl to the dance, but the image is viewable and natural without edge enhancement or haloing. There have been no artificial color improvements made in the image either; it looks natural and the overhead lighting in the show giving off a strange high school cafeteria feel to it. About what I was expecting.
You have your choice of the original mono audio track or a remastered 5.1 surround track, neither of which provide much smoke to lift the proverbial dress. The surround track does not involve the subwoofer for low end activity and channel panning and directional effects are nil; the rear channels reinforce the sound occurring in the front of the soundstage. The concert sound was pretty much what I had read from other accounts and it was what it was.
The Cream Farewell Concert may not be the prettiest girl of the dance, but she remains as important a document on the rock landscape as anything else has in rock's last half century. Technically, even with a remastered surround track there is not much to be blown away by, and supplemental material is still nonexistent. Still, it deserves to be seen by any self-respecting fan of music.