By John Curley
This tour is billed as The Music of Cream: 50th Anniversary Tour. One of the things that makes it very special is that band is completely comprised of relatives of the members of Cream. Guitarist/vocalist Will Johns is Eric Clapton’s nephew, drummer Kofi Baker is Ginger Baker’s son and bassist/vocalist Malcolm Bruce is Jack Bruce’s son. They are a tight and very powerful trio, and they did their families proud with their very enjoyable and quite memorable performance at New York City’s Sony Hall on Saturday, March 30th.
As the band took the stage, a recording played of a British announcer talking about Cream’s 1968 farewell concert at London’s Royal Albert Hall. When the recording ended, the band tore right into the opening song, the propulsive rocker “N.S.U.” that featured some outstanding work by Baker on drums. It was immediately evident that we were seeing three extremely talented musicians and that we were in for a night of great music.
Next up was a cover of Blind Joe Reynolds’ “Outside Woman Blues” that included some sensational guitar playing by Johns. The band sounded so much like Cream that if an unsuspecting person was given a recording of “Outside Woman Blues” from this show, they would likely think that they were listening to a vintage live performance of Cream. “Politician” followed, and it was an all-hands-on-deck, absolutely outstanding band effort that got quite a response from the audience. “Badge” was the next selection. It featured a tight performance by the band, a nice vocal by Johns and it received a big hand from the crowd. It was certainly one of the many highlights of the show.
Prior to the performance of “Sleepy Time Time,” Bruce told the audience that Cream had initially played only blues covers and went on to say that his mother wrote the lyrics for “Sleepy Time Time,” which became the first original Cream song. The excellent version of the song that followed really showed how much fun the three musicians have when playing together. An outstanding, rocking version of “Deserted Cities Of The Heart” followed, and it featured a terrific effort from the band. The crowd loved it. And the excellent version of “Strange Brew” received a big cheer from the audience.
Kofi Baker took on the lead-vocal duties on “Pressed Rat And Wart Hog,” which his father wrote. The performance of the song was very trippy. A spotlight was aimed at the spinning mirror ball on the venue’s ceiling, which sent reflected light all over the room, enhancing the song’s psychedelic vibe. It was fantastic. Johns provided some terrific guitar work on the song. When the song was over, Baker told the crowd that his father came up with the song’s odd title while stoned one night.
The magnificent version of “SWLABR” that came next was quite arguably the highlight of the show. The band were firing on all cylinders, and it got a big reaction from the audience. The band went right into “White Room” with no break between the songs. The band extended “White Room” and gave it a trippy ending. Johns contributed some great guitar work on the song.
Bruce then told the audience that at this point in the show, they would usually take a 20-minute break and then return for the second set. But due to time constraints, they decided to play through. The show continued with the cover of Skip James’ “I’m So Glad,” which featured terrific vocals by Johns and Bruce and a tight, fantastic effort by the band. Another cover, Booker T. & the MGs’ “Born Under A Bad Sign,” was up next. It was sensational, an extended version with a spectacular instrumental break in the middle. The crowd ate it up.
Johns mentioned that the New York City show was taking place on what was Eric Clapton’s 74th birthday. He then told a story of visiting Clapton when he was young and waking the legendary musician with an early morning workout on a drum kit in Clapton’s house while playing along to a tape of ZZ Top’s Eliminator album. Clapton, none too pleased about being roused from his sleep at such an early hour by his nephew’s solo drumming, offered to teach him some guitar to get him off the drums. And he proceeded to show him how to play bits of Robert Johnson’s “Crossroads,” a song that Cream had electrified, sped up and made their own. Johns, Baker and Bruce then ripped into an outstanding version of “Crossroads.” It was a real showcase for the guitar skills of Johns and was a terrific band effort.
Bruce told the crowd that the next song, “Siting On Top Of The World,” is a blues standard that is almost 100 years old. It featured a strong vocal by Bruce, who sounds uncannily like his father. Bruce then said to the crowd that “Sweet Wine” had been written by his father and Ginger Baker. The performance of “Sweet Wine” that followed included a great instrumental break in the midsection. The audience gave it a big hand.
“Toad” provided Baker with his spotlight moment, the epic, lengthy drum solo recreating his father’s original hit for hit. Baker told the crowd that it had to be shortened a bit due to time constraints and joked that the version should be called “Tadpole” instead. The song, an instrumental, got off to a rocking start, and then Johns and Bruce exited the stage to let Baker do his thing. While Baker was performing the solo, video screens on either side of the stage showed footage of Ginger Baker playing the “Toad” drum solo. As Baker’s drum solo neared its end, Bruce and Johns comically sidled back onstage in time to what Baker was playing and then picked up their instruments and resume playing the song as a full band effort. The crowd roared at the end.
Bruce told the crowd that “We’re Going Wrong” was probably his favorite Cream song. The sensational version of the song that followed was quite trippy. Psychedelic images were shown on the video screens as the song was played. The song was highlighted by Bruce’s magnificent bass playing. The main set then came to a close with a terrific “Sunshine Of Your Love” that featured nice vocals by Bruce and Johns and was yet another great band effort.
Bruce said to the audience that the band wasn’t going to leave the stage prior to performing the encore because they were running short on time. He then introduced his friend Jon Paris to the stage to play harmonica on the encore, an excellent cover of Wille Dixon’s “Spoonful.” The song featured a great vocal by Bruce. The crowd stood up and cheered loudly at the end, showing their appreciation for the two hours of incredible music that they had witnessed.
The Music of Cream’s 50th Anniversary Tour continues through April 20th and ends with a show in San Antonio. The show is a must see for any Cream fan. It will knock your socks off.
The setlist was as follows:
N.S.U. (Cream song)
Outside Woman Blues (Blind Joe Reynolds cover)
Politician (Cream song)
Badge (Cream song)
Sleepy Time Time (Cream song)
Deserted Cities Of The Heart (Cream song)
Strange Brew (Cream song)
Pressed Rat And Wart Hog (Cream song)
SWLABR (Cream song)
White Room (Cream song)
I’m So Glad (Skip James cover)
Born Under A Bad Sign (Booker T. & the MG’s cover)
Crossroads (Robert Johnson cover)
Sitting On Top Of The World (Mississippi Sheiks cover)
Sweet Wine (Cream song)
Toad (Cream song)
We’re Going Wrong (Cream song)
Sunshine Of Your Love (Cream song)
Spoonful (Willie Dixon cover)