Wednesday, October 26, 2005
I never thought I'd be able to say this:
Last night I saw Cream.
These guys broke up in 1968. I discovered them in 1990. I spent that year in my basement learning every solo from Strange Brew: the Best of Cream on a Squire strat. When I first heard the Beatles, I wanted to play acoustic guitar. As soon as I heard Cream, I wanted to play lead.
There are a few acts I know I'll never see live. Jimi Hendrix. Nirvana. The Beatles. Led Zeppelin. Just not gonna happen. Until last night at Madison Square Garden, I had put Cream on that list, figuring I'd have to settle for Eric Clapton solo.
From the moment they went on stage with no lightshow, no video, no intro music and no opening act, it was clear the night would be dedicated to MUSICIANSHIP. The three were all dressed in t shirts and jeans. They said little to the audience besides, "thank you." Clapton only changed guitars once for slide. And nobody minded.
It was a more laid back evening than I expected, more like watching jazzmen than stadium rockers. The first couple of songs were so slowly paced I thought these guys might be over the hill. But they warmed up nicely and played beautifully for two hours. For the most part, they put aside loud psychedelic numbers for slow blues. We got 'Stormy Monday' but no 'Swlabr'. 'Rollin n' Tumblin' but not 'I Feel Free'.
My friends on the Les Paul Forum have sparked a big controversy over Clapton's performance. When Cream first started, Clapton played a Gibson Les Paul through a Marshall stack. In fact he was one of the first, inspiring even Jimmy Page to pick one up. Those guitars were rare then and his kept getting stolen so he moved to a Gibson SG. Either way, he had a big rock guitar sound. In the 70's, after heroin nearly killed him, he mellowed out and switched to a Fender Stratocaster, using it heavily ever since. The strat is a lot brighter and twangy. Great for surf, country and Buddy Holly.
Guitar heads were hoping for a return to Gibson at these shows. But Clapton showed up with his signature strat. His is equipped with a circuit that boosts the midrange. He thinks it sounds like a Les Paul. I thought it sounded like a crappy overdrive pedal. I was disappointed to see the little combo amps he brought instead of the Marshalls too.
But I maintain that I don't matter. What matters is what makes Clapton play the best. He's obviously comfortable with the strat and the solo he took on 'Stormy Monday' was better than anything I ever heard him record. He wouldn't have been nearly as good on a Les Paul. He's just not used to it anymore. The guy's been touring extensively with strats for 25 years. Why give him a different guitar that might trip him up?
And let me get some perspective. Jack Bruce was playing a different bass. I didn't know what it was but it sounded the same to me. God knows what drum kit Ginger Baker used and his ten minute drum solo was riveting (and when was the last show you went to with a freaking DRUM SOLO?). Time to get over my own guitar nerd leanings.
UPDATE: Special thanks to whereseric.com for linking this article and leading so many new visitors to my little ramshackle site. You're all welcome. Browse around and you'll find more about music, a little about politics and a lot about cartoons. And, since you're all 'in the know', the picture above comes from the Guardian's coverage of the May Royal Albert Hall shows. Still a great shot that shows all three members and fits in my template.