Cream: Royal Albert Hall (HD DVD)
Rhino // Unrated // $29.99 // November 14, 2006
Review by Adam Tyner | posted February 4, 2007
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Despite the usual grumbling that comes to mind when long-dormant bands reform, there's nothing self-indulgent or exploitative about legendary guitarist Eric Clapton, bassist Jack Bruce, and drummer Ginger Baker reuniting after 37 years for Cream's four night stay at the Royal Albert Hall in London. In the interviews on this HD DVD, Clapton notes his bandmates' "healthy disregard for audience requirements". This 130 minute performance reflects the band's mantra that the music is all that matters. Aside from some occasional "thank you"s and the names of the members of the band, there's no stage banter. A group playing to such massive crowds would typically be surrounded by elaborate, overpriced sets and a couple dozen backing musicians; other than amplifiers, a few instruments, and the three performers themselves, the only thing on-stage for Cream's extended stay in London is a small psychedelic backdrop.

The nearly forty years that have passed since the band last took the stage together may be visible on the weathered faces of these musicians, but neither their musicianship nor most of these songs show any sign of age. Clapton's virtuoso fretwork is as awe-inspiring now as it was in the '60s, Baker can still effortlessly pound out the extended solo in the instrumental "Toad", and Bruce's basslines are as nimble and melodic as ever.

The trio doesn't have the most remarkable presence on-stage -- by design, they don't do anything more than stand still and play -- but the energy of Martyn Atkins' photography keeps the two hour-plus performance lively. The camerawork is fluid and makes use of some clever, unconventional angles without ever seeming gimmicky or distracting. The sporadic use of the three-paneled frame is a nice nod to the band's '60s heritage, and there's something intriguing about the way the tuning knobs and even Clapton's glasses can catch the light, resulting in thin, silver pillar that can cover half the screen. The only visual trick that I didn't much care for was the camera quickly pulling in and out of focus, something I thought music video directors had left behind in 1994. The songs are provided uninterrupted, without the interviews or candid interludes that often creep into concert DVDs.

Jack Bruce speaks at length in one of the extras about the great deal of thought that went into crafting this particular setlist, emphasizing songs they'd enjoy playing on-stage as well as those that were overlooked during the band's touring days decades ago. The set, which runs over two hours in length, features nineteen songs in total.

  • I'm So Glad
  • Spoonful
  • Outside Woman Blues
  • Pressed Rat and Warthog
  • Sleepy Time Time
  • N.S.U.
  • Badge
  • Politician
  • Sweet Wine
  • Rollin' and Tumblin'
  • Stormy Monday
  • Deserted Cities of the Heart
  • Born Under a Bad Sign
  • We're Going Wrong
  • Crossroads
  • Sitting on Top of the World
  • White Room
  • Toad
  • Sunshine of Your Love

Video: This Cream concert boasts the depth and clarity of high-definition video but was shot with a more film-like framerate, making it the best of both worlds. Nearly four full decades in the making, a Cream reunion is an event, and it seems appropriate that the photography would more closely resemble the timelessness of film than the blandly shot TV special of many concert releases. The 1.78:1 image is dazzlingly crisp and clear, so detailed that in some of the exceptionally tight close-ups, I could start to make out individual fibers in Bruce and Clapton's shirts. The VC-1 encoding is immaculate as well, devoid of any visible artifacting. An exceptional effort from Rhino.

Audio: The third of Rhino's initial wave of HD DVDs, Cream's performances from the Royal Albert Hall are also offered in DTS 5.1 and LPCM stereo. The rears are subdued enough in the DTS mix that the fuller LPCM track is the clear winner to my ears. The audio is smooth and clear, and the stripped down instrumentation -- just drums, one bassist, one guitarist, vocals, and some occasional harmonica -- is nicely balanced.

Along with the pair of soundtracks, an extensive selection of subtitles is also offered.

Supplements: This HD DVD is one of just a select few to offer all of its extras in high-definition. The alternate takes of "Sleepy Time Time", "We're Going Wrong", and "Sunshine of Your Love" are identical in quality to the performances on the HD DVD proper, again compressed with VC-1 with audio in LPCM stereo and DTS 5.1. Ginger Baker, Jack Bruce, and Eric Clapton briefly discuss the reunion, each other, the need for an extended rehearsal period, and the mindset behind the shows' setlist in a 16 minute interview. Again, this footage is also offered in VC-1-encoded HD with an uncompressed LPCM soundtrack.

Other Reviews: Louis Howard penned a much more detailed write-up when this concert set was released on DVD.

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