The Cream reunion this spring was some of the biggest news to hit dinosaur rock in a good while. One had to wonder: Would the shows come off as some shameless cash-in — or, more accurately, like Eric Clapton bestowing an annuity on his less-prosperous mates? Not having attended, I can't ultimately say, but after listening to this two-disc set, the answer certainly seems like a big, fat "yes."
More germane to this review: Did Clapton, Jack Bruce and Ginger Baker rekindle that special chemistry that made them the proto-power trio of the '60s? This one's easier. Uh, no.
This double CD was presumably culled from shows on four different nights, but since it's presented as a single performance, I'll approach this review as a concert critique.
Cream opens with "I'm So Glad." After the initial rush provided by the opening chord sequence, the song lumbers along, no fire in the belly, no sense of excitement from the three ace players reunited after nearly 37 years. "Spoonful," such an expansive jam on the Wheels of Fire album, is played cautiously, with Bruce's vocal sounding tired (and croaky).
After a flat "Outside Woman Blues," it's a gimmick song — "Pressed Rat and Warthog," with Baker's goofy narration — that appears to break Cream out of its stupor. You can start to hear them having a little fun. The band fully wakes up during the slow blues "Sleepy Time Time," easily the set's best performance. Clapton's fiery solo here is the only one on Albert Hall that could qualify as special.
The energy level stays relatively high during the ensuing segment — "N.S.U," "Badge," "Politician," "Sweet Wine" — with the group engaging (too briefly) in the open, free-form jamming that marked their initial run.
Now I know Cream felt obligated to cover a wide range of material, but their next move is a mistake. They kill the momentum to engage in the Bruce harmonica showcase "Rollin' and Tumblin'." A pedestrian version of "Stormy Monday" ensues, followed by a perfunctory "Deserted Cities of the Heart."
Disc 2 opens with a serviceable "Born Under a Bad Sign," which leads into a ponderous eight-and-a-half minute version of "We're Going Wrong." A dreary song to begin with, it throws a wet tarp over the proceedings.
Can it get worse? Uh-huh. "Crossroads," whose original version raised the neck hairs, is played at a bouncy medium tempo. Truly flaccid by comparison. Then the limp to the finish: "White Room" is sloppy; "Toad," with its extended drum solo, lays bare Baker's diminished prowess; and the closer "Sunshine of Your Love," well, it sounds like three geezers trying vainly to recapture past glory but fast running out of gas. .5 stars