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Rhino presents
Cream: Royal Albert Hall 2005 (2005)

"Thanks for waiting, all these years."
- Eric Clapton

Review By: Mark Zimmer  
Published: October 19, 2005

Stars: Ginger Baker, Jack Bruce, Eric Clapton
Director: Martyn Atkins

MPAA Rating: Not Rated for (nothing objectionable)
Run Time: 02h:05m:37s
Release Date: October 04, 2005
UPC: 603497042128
Genre: rock

Image Transfer
Audio Transfer

DVD Review

It's amazing how much sound can be generated by three determined men. That's amply demonstrated in this 2005 reunion of drummer Ginger Baker, bassist Jack Bruce, and guitarist Eric Clapton, reforming the blues/rock band Cream for a four-night set of shows at the Royal Albert Hall. Never mind that the band had broken up over 35 years ago and had dealt with some personal animosities in the meantime. Playing to a packed house, they are back in fine form and nimbly meld the sound of the past with the technique of the current.

This two-DVD set culls the best performances of each of the 19 songs played during those four evenings; those familiar with the band's all-too-short career will recognize that this marks more than half of their total output, spread across a handful of albums, and representing both their originals and their covers of master bluesmen such as Willie Dixon, Muddy Waters, and Robert Johnson. About half of the set is taken from the last evening, indicating that they were continuing to jell musically as the concerts continued. Jack Bruce's vocals from that night don't seem to have the energy or intensity as they do on earlier nights, however. Possibly the strain of a two-hour performance with hardly a break was beginning to get to him, or maybe he just wasn't miked as aggressively.

One of the things that always makes me reluctant to check out such reunion concerts is that the old blokes usually just don't have it any more; the vocal range is shot from years of screaming and the whole thing usually ends up being far over-produced. Thankfully, that's not the case with this set. Although there are, as mentioned, some times where the vocals are a bit thin or reedy, the range is still there for the most part. But the instrumental chops, they've if anything gotten better over the years. And one can hardly call a performance that consists of nothing but two guitars and a set of drums over-produced. No backup singers to push them along, no help with percussion or keyboards to fill the gaps, nothing but pure unadulterated Cream (well, other than the pulsating psychedelic backdrop). And that's the way it should be; guys who play the blues like this don't deserve pre-packaging or big production. That would just get in the way of the sincerity of the music.

And the music is all great. Starting with a rollicking I'm So Glad, with plenty of jazz inflections, the band hits the ground running. That's followed up by a smoldering rendition of Dixon's Spoonful and a throbbing Outside Woman Blues that features Clapton doing some great vocal work. Baker contributes his rasping monotone to Pressed Rat and Warthog, indicating that this is the first time they've ever played it live. One of the last Cream songs released, Badge (co-written by Clapton and George Harrison) has a wonderful pulsing feel to it that will take one back 35 years or more. One could go through the list at length, and there's not a clunker amongst the many songs, from the swamp-inflected Politician to an appropriately haunted rendition of Johnson's Crossroads. There are a couple omissions that are surprising: no sign of Strange Brew or Tales of Brave Ulysses, two favorites of mine. The concert winds up with a 12+ minute version of Toad, spotlighting Baker's drumming prowess, and an 8+ minute version of Sunshine of Your Love that features a great guitar duel between Bruce and Clapton. Both of them also contribute on harmonica, demonstrating their versaility. It's a great show that doesn't just rely on nostalgia; there's a lot of great music, enthusiastically played by masters.

Song list:

I'm So Glad
Outside Woman Blues
Pressed Rat and Warthog
Sleepy Time Time
Sweet Wine
Rollin' and Fumblin'
Stormy Monday
Deserted Cities of the Heart
Born Under a Bad Sign
We're Going Wrong
Sitting on Top of the World
White Room
Sunshine of Your Love

Rating for Style: A
Rating for Substance: A


Image Transfer

Aspect Ratio1.78:1 - Widescreen
Original Aspect Ratioyes

Image Transfer Review: The concert was shot in high definition, which has translated pretty well to DVD. Colors are very vivid and blacks are reasonably good for a live stage performance. Artifacting is minimal; I noted some aliasing on guitar strings, and that was about the extent of it. The picture seems to have been filtered because it's fairly soft, but as concert DVDs go this looks quite good indeed.

Image Transfer Grade: A-


Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access

Audio Transfer Review: Both the original PCM and a DTS 5.1 remix are included. They're quite different, with the PCM tending to have a good bit more bass. The DTS remix feels better balanced, however, with Clapton's guitar not getting overshadowed. Both are very well done, so it will be a matter of taste as to whether you'd like the sound as it was in the Royal Albert Hall or a little more managed. It's nice to have the choice. Both tracks feature prominent bass and exceptional range and presence, so you can't really go wrong.

Audio Transfer Grade: A


Disc Extras

Full Motion menu with music
Scene Access with 20 cues and remote access
Music/Song Access with 19 cues and remote access
1 Documentaries
Packaging: generic plastic keepcase
Picture Disc
2 Discs
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: RSDL
Layers Switch: 00h:57m:25s

Extra Extras:
  1. Alternate takes of three songs
Extras Review: Since Cream relies heavily on improvisation, each song is different every time they play it. In support of that notion, there are alternate takes of Sleepy Time Time, We're Going Wrong and Sunshine of Your Love. The latter is quite different and most of the time it's even better than the version used in the main show; unfortunately Clapton muffed one of the lyrics early on so it really wasn't usable as part of the main presentation. But it's certainly worth hearing. The package is wrapped up with a set of interviews (16m:27s) that discusses the impetus for the reunion, how shot their memory is these days, and their desire to give old material a new take. Its interesting to get to see them talk about the band and finally getting together again, especially since they're one of the very few bands of the period that can do so.

Extras Grade: B+


Final Comments

If you like good and loud blues rock or have any fondness for Cream at all, you will definitely want to have this disc, with its sparkling audio and first-rate performances. Pure unadulterated Cream, indeed.


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