‘Live Cream’ + ‘Ginger Baker’s Air Force’ (05/28/70)

Cream is gone, but the excitement of those days when they were in full command still sells records. No doubt a live Blind Faith LP is in the can, ready to go, and after that, a Best of Blind Faith with alternate takes, and after that… No matter. Eric Clapton has found better things to do with his time (playing superbly with Leon Russell and the Plastic Ono Band) and Steve Winwood is back with Traffic. Two new albums, one of old tapes and the other rather new, both anachronistic though, give a sense of the grandeur of the music that began with Cream and the pointlessness of its continuation now that the spirit that was its inspiration is dead.

Live Cream is an excellent album. The music is well-recorded, controlled, and tense; the timing of the band can capture the listener with an excitement that has nothing to do with nostalgia. The ten minutes of “N.S.U.” that open the LP probably contain the flashiest and the most intense music here—if you love the sound of Clapton’s notes bumping into Bruce’s bass with that arhythmic confidence that allowed Cream to make perhaps the all-time great rock and roll noise, you certainly ought to buy it.

On the other hand, there is nothing new here, nothing that in the end can’t be found on Goodbye (the most effective Cream LP since the first). Cream had an extraordinarily small amount of material (other cuts include “Sweet Wine,” “Sleepy Time Time,” “Rollin’ and Tumblin’ ” and “Lawdy Mama,” a studio outtake musically identical to “Strange Brew”), and it never would have made much sense to simply borrow a few more old blues tunes, since in essence this was a band that basically employed songs as structures for performances. They didn’t interpret, and they didn’t write very good original material. They got up on stage and blew up against the back of the auditorium wall.

In terms of live recordings, what matters is how tightly they focused the force of which they were capable, avoiding their own boredom which occasionally led to sloppiness (as on the live “Spoonful”). The band is focused here, but in the end, it will be the live versions of “I’m So Glad” (Goodbye) and “Crossroads” (Wheels of Fire) that matter the most.

Air Force is a lumbering juggernaut arisen from the graveyard of Cream and Blind Faith, almost 80 minutes of dull noise on two records, featuring, along with Baker, Denny Laine, Steve Winwood, Graham Bond, Chris Wood, and a lot of other people. To my knowledge, all of them have sounded better anywhere else.

Part of the reason for this is the sound quality of this particular set—it’s vague, buried, without crispness or guts. The main reason, however, is the material, which might have been sort of fun to hear in person (there’s really no evidence for that here, though) but is stunningly boring on record. Twelve more minutes of “Do What You Like.” Thirteen more minutes of “Toad” (the third time for this one). A hideous Denny Laine vocal on “Man of Constant Sorrow.” (And would it surprise you to find out Laine wrote it?)

What happens is that the rhythm section finds itself a steady, rather clumsy riff, plays it for five to 15 minutes, allowing others to “solo” behind their unimaginative gymnastics. Yes, behind. That’s how it seems to have been mixed. But that’s petty criticism. You most likely wouldn’t want to hear it anyway. This set, though far more pretentious, reminds one of nothing so much as those Barry Goldberg Reunion LPs that were on the market a year or so ago. The industry has learned that anything that even hints of Cream is gold, but this loser really ought to put an end to that.

Rolling Stone, May 28, 1970

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