When this band formed in the mid-1960s, Eric Clapton envisioned Cream as a blues trio. As history has shown, things didn't quite turn out that way. Forty years later, Slowhand finally got his wish. There are blues numbers here in abundance from the likes of Willie Dixon, Robert Johnson, Muddy Waters, T-Bone Walker, Albert King, and Skip James. Recorded 37 years after their final proper concert at this same venue in 1968, time may have ravaged their looks, but definitely not their playing. As another reviewer has stated in these pages, Cream acts like a band this time around rather than as a group of egotistical soloists going for the jugular night after night as they did "back in the day." The jams for which Cream are renowned are kept to a tolerable length. Most songs on this collection clock in around 5-6 minutes. Those that do go long (Stormy Monday, Spoonful, We're Going Wrong, Sunshine, Toad) do not suffer as a result.
As it was back in their heyday, each member is afforded his own showcase. For Jack Bruce, it's "Rollin' And Tumblin'." On this number Jack, accompanied by his harmonica (no bass), Eric playing the slide, and Ginger Baker on the drums, stuns and amazes the crowd with an energy that belies the fact that the man nearly died in 2003. Eric Clapton's showcase is the T-Bone Walker classic "Stormy Monday." This is a new song for Cream as it was never on an official Cream release until this collection came out. Slowhand demonstrates that when he wants to, he is the master of the blues guitar. The man was simply on fire the night they recorded this song. Ginger Baker's showcase was, of course, the drum solo "Toad." By and large, drum solos are usually excuses to head to the bathroom or the concession stand. Not so here. "Toad" is simply compelling. It's isn't boring - it's Ginger Baker demonstrating that yes, the drum IS a musical instrument. By the time the solo ends you don't realize it had gone on for over seven minutes. It's that good!
The big surprise of this whole collection is Ginger's song "Pressed Rat and Warthog" from "Wheels of Fire." On the DVD that visually documented this reunion, Ginger told the interviewer that he was "threatened with execution" by his family if he didn't play this song. At a little over three minutes, this is the only hint of psychedelia that Cream shows throughout the set. Slowhand plays it straight - not a wah-wah pedal to be heard, and frankly it isn't missed (much). Jack Bruce is in fine voice throughout. Of interest is the band's different take on White Room. Instead of Jack Bruce singing the entire song as he has done since he wrote it, Jack sings the first two verses, Eric takes the refrain of those two verses, then the two swap roles for the third verse and refrain. Eric's song "Badge" had never been played live by Cream as it was recorded at the end of their 1960s run, and here Jack Bruce proves once and for all to hear that if you took his bass lines away from the song, there would be no song.
There are lots of plusses on this collection. The jamming is kept to a tolerable length, hence more songs to enjoy. The volume is lower than in their heyday, so the musicians can hear each other, and the interplay between the musicians makes for some outstanding music. One need look no further for proof of this than Cream's take on "We're Going Wrong". Thirty-seven years ago this band was full volume pedal to the metal jamming. Today this band plays like adults - it swings! Credit that to Ginger Baker, who plays more like a jazzer these days (when he does play). There is one minus - no "Tales of Brave Ulysses" (they fixed this oversight when they played MSG in October 2005). Other than that, this collection is a worthy addition to Cream's legacy. Buy it now!