Friday, 27 January 2012

I'll Be With You Darling Soon

True confession:  one of the worst records I ever bought was Live Cream Volume II.  It was just not very good.  Not as bad as Woodstock Volume II, which was unmitigated garbage, but pretty bad.

This was especially disappointing, since the live sides on Wheels Of Fire and Goodbye Cream contain some of the most thrilling live music ever captured.

So I definitely had mixed feelings when I first watched to the Cream Reunion (2005) concert DVD.  On top of the morbid "they're-so-old-they-might-die-on-stage" feeling I always struggle with, I worried about which Cream would show up.  And, you know, could they still do it?  It had been over 35 years!

Well, time - and probably restraint from substance abuse - has been kind.  What a treat!

What really jumps out at me as I watch the video is the intuition each of them shows, the silent, subtle - almost ESP-like - way they communicate with one another.

Yes, Cream was famous for squabbling and large egos.  And yes, every song comes across like a big contest, a struggle for supremacy.  And that hallmark Cream sound really is the sound of three guys doing non-stop solos right through the song - right over top of the other two guys.


But even though that's all going on, you can see a level of co-operation that's uncanny.  Clapton is riffing away like mad, but he actually never wanders too far from the chords (or the base riff).  Instead of disconnected histrionics, he gives us theme-and-a-million-variations.  Jack Bruce almost never rests on the root of the chord, and seems determined to display more fireworks on the bass than Clapton is giving out on the guitar.  Yet Bruce never loses track of the chord, and in fact frequently fills in the empty space with chords.  Ginger Baker does the same with his drumming: going nuts but never getting lost.

It's the give and take between them that's so unbelievable.  Despite the contention for the spotlight, each of them pulls back, leaving a gap here and a space there for one of the others to jump in and grab the lead.  And one of them invariably does.

Oh, you're not ready for the change yet?  No problem.  Something told me to hold back half a beat, and so I didn't quite commit myself.  Whew!  Avoided that mistake!  Oh, you want to change now?  Yikes! Missed a beat a bit there, but caught up.

That's the magic.  Sure, they had the arm in the air to signal last time, the dramatic gesture, some eye contact  ...  all that usual stuff.  But they also used the music to signal intentions - a note here, a space there, a fill over there.  And where the signal was missed, they each have the uncanny knack of being able to instantaneously change course and avert disaster.

A contest, a competition, built over a co-operative spirit and unerring music sense.  Thrilling, dangerous - magical.

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