WHO ARE THEY? The sadly short-lived but eternally revered ’60s British blues-rock power trio of guitarist Eric Clapton, bassist Jack Bruce and drummer Ginger Baker. Some history for those who need a refresher: Generally regarded as the world’s first supergroup, Cream came together in 1966, taking their name from the fact that all three players were the so-called cream of the musical crop. Two years and four albums later, they imploded, largely due to the violently combustible and rapidly deteriorating relationship between Bruce and Baker, whose mutual antagonism extended back to their days with Graham Bond — and resurfaced decades later, helping scuttle plans to extend a brief 2005 reunion.
WHAT IS THIS? A box set containing complete, freshly remastered versions of four shows from their final 1968 tour, including an L.A. Forum concert that supplied three live recordings used in their final album Goodbye, an Oakland Coliseum gig that featured three more songs used on 1972’s Live Cream Volume II and their famed farewell show from London’s Royal Albert Hall.
WHAT DOES IT SOUND LIKE? The last gasps of greatness. While there’s no quibbling about the individual players’ prodigious skills and world-class talent, by this point in their career they were mostly out of steam and essentially limping to the finish line. Now and then during these shows, it’s hard not to notice the wear and tear; on a few songs, they sound like they’re just going through the motions. (For comparison, get your hands on their mind-blowing 1967 gig at Detroit’s Grande Ballroom, a performance quite rightly regarded as one of the finest bootlegs ever released.) Despite the quibbles, however, there are still enough moments of sheer brilliance in these sets to keep things from being a disappointment. And hey, even slightly diluted Cream is better than no Cream at all.
WHAT ARE THE MOST TELLING LYRICS? “I’m so glad / I’m so glad / I’m glad, I’m glad, I’m glad / Tired of weeping / Tired of moaning / Tired of groaning for you.”
WHAT SHOULD IT BE TITLED? Expiration Dates.
HOW SHOULD I LISTEN TO IT? One disc at a time — the set lists are a little too repetitive to keep anyone but diehards interested for the duration of the 270-minute set.
WHAT 10 WORDS SUM IT UP? Historic, powerful, kinetic, incendiary, spontaneous, interactive, aggressive, cathartic, unpredictable, urgent.
WHAT ARE THE BEST SONGS? The nightly rendition of the blues classic Spoonful usually serves as a platform for the players to spread their wings — though really, anytime Clapton takes a solo is a good time to shut up and listen up.
WHAT WILL MY FRIENDS SAY? ‘Led who?’
HOW OFTEN WILL I LISTEN TO IT? Often enough to make it worth your while — but perhaps not as often as that Grande Ballroom show. Seriously, it’s that good.
IF THIS ALBUM WERE A CIRCUS ACT, WHAT WOULD IT BE? Three ambidextrous plate spinners working in unison.
SHOULD I BUY, STREAM OR STEAL IT? If you’re a completist, you need to own it. If no, you can probably live with streaming it one gig at a time.