Wednesday, October 26, 2005

Seeing God From 20th Row, Center

Sometimes things just make sense. Believe it or not, Cream playing Madison Square Garden 37 years or so after calling it quits makes sense. Forget about any reviews you may have read stating that they have mellowed or other nonsense like that. This was - and is - the premier rock trio. Bass, drums, guitar. Bingo. And it most definitely is the best showcase for the man that I truly feel is rock's best guitarist ever.

The drummer in my band, Tom Ryan, hates Cream. He argues that the "blues rock" genre that they created spawned some incredibly lame bands and by doing so tainted the sanctuary of the blues. Well the truth of the matter is that almost all modern blues bands suck. It is incredibly difficult to play the blues, not in the fact that the form is difficult to play but rather that to actually "play" the blues requires something that goes beyond the ability to play an instrument. It requires a complete understanding of the human condition required to actually have the blues. Don't confuse this with "having the right to sing the blues" as the song goes. We all experience tragedy in our lifetimes, some much more than others. While this may give you the right to "sing the blues" (ie, whine), it doesn't give you the ability to play the blues. That ability only belongs to the rare individual who can translate the feeling of that pain - whether it be drowning in it, rejoicing in it or rejecting it - into his playing. It doesn't matter if the pain is even his. The blues is story telling on a grand scale.

Some people can do a great job of faking this, and sometimes with the best intentions. They study the masters and play authentically on their prized vintage instruments. They dress the part and even try to live the way they think a bluesman should live. They talk blues talk. They are the musical equivalent to reduced fat foods. It just ain't the real thing, no matter how much you convince yourself that you can't taste the difference.

Eric Clapton is the real thing. He may not bring it every night, but when he does there is just nobody better.

A few songs into the show on Tuesday the band seemed to be sputtering a bit through "Spoonful." Then Eric's solo came around and as he dug into it, you could feel the audience being carried along. At the end of that solo, I felt that I had just seen perhaps the most incredible thing I have ever witnessed in over 35 years of attending concerts.

Then they played "Stormy Monday."

Now, I don't remember "Stormy Monday" being a Cream song. Perhaps they played somewhere back when. But it certainly is a blues song and I know that I have never heard Clapton sing or play anything as good as the version they played that night.

There were plenty of other highlights and not all belonged to EC. Jack Bruce sounded amazing. His playing is still fluid and lyrical and his voice was strong. I have always felt that the Bruce and Clapton made one of the great harmony duos. I wish they had played "Dance The Night Away" which showcases this, but it didn't make the cut.

Somehow "Pressed Rat And Warthog" did.

Ginger Baker sounded great. His solo in "Toad" was a blast! I can't remember the last time I sat through a drum solo - and I don't really look forward to the next one - but he certainly can play, mostly working the toms on the kit, always swinging, and bringing on occasional blasts of fury to much huzzah from the crowd.

Ahh, the crowd. Let me tell you, it was three nights of serious regression therapy at MSG! The mostly male, mostly 50ish audience treated the band with well deserved respect. Most of the guys in attendance had that "I can't believe I'm out on a Tuesday night and drinking a beer!" look in their eyes. There was much marijuana in the air, as decade-old joints that were being saved for special reasons were broken out in record numbers. Then there were the many old guys sporting long gray pony tails. Who are these guys? Where do they go during the day? They can't all be working in record stores or comic book shops.

I have heard that Jack Bruce is in failing health and this all may have come about because of his troubles. Then again, there were all those "Ginger Baker is dead" rumors. Whatever the reason, I'm glad it happened, I'm glad I spent a stupid amount of money on the seat - and yes it was worth it.