The finest 'Power Trio' of all time at their very best and for sheer raw intensity this has never been surpassed. It's fitting that Jack Bruce is the main figure on the front cover photograph as he was the real brains in this group, providing a solid songwriting/virtuoso bass technique foundation for Clapton's soaring guitar. However, can everyone get over the 'Bruce versus Clapton' debate as they were actually very different musicians as their subsequent work shows and they could only ever work together in a group like Cream. However, I've given it 4 stars because of the mediocre 'Lawdy Mama'. What's a studio track doing on a 'Live' album?
'Live Cream' Volume 1 was the first LP I bought myself back in 1968 for 37/-; shortly afterwards I bought Volume 2 with my hard-earned pocket money of 2/6 a week. Each of the three group members (Eric Clapton, Jack Bruce and Ginger Baker) was acknowledged as virtuosos on their particular instruments. At times on these live recordings each band member seems intent on 'outdoing' the other, but somehow even after a ten+ minute improvisation session they all come back together at exactly the same moment. A particular example of this phenomenon is 'Sweet Wine' and 'N.S.U.' on Volume 1 and the almost anthemic 'Sunshine Of Your Love' and 'Steppin' Out' on Volume 2. They're still amongst my favourite bands but the cover of the old LPs are a bit tatty and frayed round the edges (bit like me, really).
All the live songs contained on this album are from the first Cream album Fresh Cream but the actual songs are just used in the beginning and end as most of the songs contain extensive jams showing the talents of Eric Clapton, Jack Bruce and Ginger Baker.
I was never quite quite happy with 'Sweet Wine' from the start. When I got the record in 1971 I was just a bit disappointed that it didn't have the concentration or contrapuntal tension of 'Spoonful' another improvisation in the long stretched-out mode that only Cream have ever pulled off. I felt the reason it didn't completely work was that in many passages the bass was too dominant so that the balance of tension with the guitar was lost, and subtlety too was lost because of the sound and volume of the bass. The new mix which is included on the 4 disc set 'THOSE WERE THE DAYS' has rectified this showing that this improvisation was one of their finest, although it is in many ways an alternative version of the famous 16min Spoonful improvisation on 'Live at the Filmore'. The drums have been brought forward and the bass now makes just the right, subtle, sometimes almost subliminal contribution allowing Clapton's very nuanced, flexible but above all expressive playing in this performance to delight the listener. It's a significant transformation of this very important track, the only one that can be put alongside 'Spoonful' in terms of the length of the improvisation. These are the longest tracks we have on disc and they are the performances that demanded the most sustained invention, putting to the test the limits of the genre they invented. This mix, however, and on the other hand, CAN work if the bass can be made to sound really big and 'bossed'(that is to say, big in the boss) so that it isn't so easy sometimes to hear the actual NOTES but one is aware of the counter-rhythmic punctuations of the note values which disturb the too easy attention to the other two. In other pieces by Cream it is essential to hear the notes clearly as counterpoint but here the bass should contribute a different role. What this all amounts to is that you shouldn't assume that that you've heard all there is until you've heard some of the alternative ways of hearing it. It may be your equipment that will make the difference or it may be which of the discs you use. Also to be found on 'Those Were The Days' is an alternative 12min performance of 'NSU', wrongly decribed on the packaging as an unedited extended version of the performance found on this original 'Live Cream'.
So the reason I have only given this 4 stars is that what we have here is only the numbers on the original album without any extra live tracks that the CD playing time would allow, and also because brilliant performances let down somewhat by the balance on the original release and in the so-called 'Cream Remasters'. But, as explained above, it is possible to get very good results with these recordings on certain equipment if you can get the right sound for the bass. But there is little likelyhood of you hitting on the right combinations without a lot of experiment. The first two performances on this album are utterly magnificent, as long as one way or another, you can get the right sound balance. Rock hasn't got anything better to offer than this, except that is for the performances on the other live Cream albums.
Wow,these guys can jam!! Finally I appreciate why Eric Clapton is held in such esteem as a guitarist. In my mind Clapton has never matched this period of his career and he's in blistering form here. As are Bruce and Baker for that matter. The three of them have a telepathic connection that makes them as tight as two coats of paint. Wild improvisations are brilliantly brought back to the main riff with ease Its said that Cream never matched their live gigs in the studio. Well,the solution to that is to simply buy anything live that is out there! I Think I've got pretty much all the live Cream stuff. This album is,for me,the best of all those live albums,and therefore possibly my favourite Cream album overall.
Vol I is arguably the best of the two Live Cream volumes as NSU, Sweet Wine and Rollin' & Tumblin' are just so exiting - and still are all these years later. They represent some of Cream's best live work (only Steppin' Out on Vol II and, of course, Spoonful and Crossroads on "Wheels of Fire Live at the Filmore" are better) - but what on earth is "Hey Lawdy Mama" doing here? Thankfully, this is a very short track. This album shows what an amazingly exiting guitar player Clapton was - never replicated when he left Cream, unfortunately. Best listened too slightly inebriated so you won't be too embarressed when you pogo with your zimmer in front of your daughters' boyfriends.
I had this on vinyl when it first came out, it was brilliant back then. Listening now I can't believe it is those many years ago. It is raw unlike modern concert/ live albums that have been cleaned up. Cream were brilliant back then and still remain so 40 + years on. I wonder how many of today's groups will sound as good in 20 years time let alone 40+