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Blu-ray review of Cream's 'Royal Albert Hall, London'

With the possible exception of an imagined Beatles collaboration, no regrouping was ever as keenly anticipated as Cream’s 2005 reunion at Royal Albert Hall.

Royal Albert Hall, Londong, May 2-3-5-6 2005
Eagle Vision (EVB333969)

By Lee Zimmerman

Cream’s short-lived 2005 reunion within the confines of London’s stately Royal Albert Hall, the scene of the band’s famous farewell concert in November 1968, was an event of such magnitude that it could easily be called one of the great rock celebrations of the past decade. With the possible exception of an imagined Beatles collaboration, no regrouping was ever as keenly anticipated.

When the band broke up, the acrimony among the players was so intense, the idea that they’d ever play together again appeared remote at best. The fact they kept their distance for the better part of 35 years only reinforced that presumption, which made the announcement that the band would perform a series of shows in early May 2005 an event akin to the Second Coming, with equal amounts of flash and fury.

Cream 2005 reunion at Royal Albert Hall

In truth, there had been tentative attempts to reconvene before. The three principals — guitarist Eric Clapton, bassist Jack Bruce and drummer Ginger Baker — discussed it briefly after a chance meeting at their London record label in 1976, but while the animosity had largely dissipated, the plans never came to fruition. Bruce and Baker attended Clapton’s wedding to Patti Boyd Harrison in 1979, and while rumors circulated that the three jammed together, it was a semi Beatles reunion — featuring McCartney, Harrison and Starr, along with skiffle great Lonnie Donegan — that took center stage. Not that Clapton, Bruce and Baker avoided each other entirely over the years. The three played at Cream’s Rock And Roll Hall of Fame induction in 1993. Clapton and Baker originally reconnected in Blind Faith, Clapton joined Bruce on record, and Bruce and Baker formed two thirds of BBM, a power trio that included the late Gary Moore.

Consequently, the Albert Hall dates had a heavy whiff of nostalgia, while raising hopes that the three men could recapture the drama and dynamic they parlayed at their peak. Such was the level of excitement that tickets for the four shows sold out in under an hour. Among those in attendance were the most decorated members of rock royalty: Paul McCartney, Ringo Starr, Steve Winwood, Roger Waters, Brian May, Jimmy Page, Mick Taylor and Bill Wyman. Happily, despite the fact that Baker and Bruce had recently been in ill health, the band proved they were up to the challenge. The concert — newly enhanced with the brilliance of Blu-ray — proves that the synergy among the three players hadn’t diminished at all over the years. The performances are every bit the equal of the searing shows Cream played in its prime.

The set list spans the entirety of the band’s career. Although Cream’s most notable album, “Disraeli Gears,” is given short shrift — “Outside Woman Blues,” “We’re Going Wrong” and “Sunshine of Your Love” are the only songs offered from that landmark disc — the trio did offer up “Badge” and a whimsical “Press Rat and Warthog,” two tracks that were never played live. Incendiary blues underscore songs like “Spoonful,” “Sleepy Time Time,” “Rollin’ and Tumblin’,” and, of course, the perennial showstopper “Crossroads,” and each number finds Clapton, Baker and Bruce stretching and showcasing instrumental virtuosity.

Individual interviews with Baker, Bruce and Clapton offer additional insight, while the Blu-Ray’s psychedelic sleeve hearkens back to an earlier era. Yet it’s the music made herein that reaffirms Cream’s credo, ultimate proof that in fact a singular legend lives on.