Volume I - November 3, 2005|
"CREAM M.S.G. - A GENERAL REVIEW"
A reaction to people saying British (RAH) audiences are boring and unresponsive!
You can imagine what I thought about that!
I would like to offer a slightly different take on the MSG Cream concerts last week.
First, I should say that I agree with much of what has been written by various reviewers of all three nights.
Monday was great, Wednesday was greater,
but Tuesday was the night that they really
blazed as of old. That in no small part is due
to the energy that Eric possessed on that second gig,
and which possibly left him sapped for the following night.
I had a ball at all three gigs sitting in different parts of
the Garden each night. The Cream were and are a mighty powerful
unit of three equal parts. If anybody particularly shone throughout for me,
it was Jack Bruce who rose to the occasion every night (as he always does)
and quite clearly did not want to stop after "Sunshine".
Ginger was splendid, and it is his job to bind this explosive
chemistry together which he does with great flair and bombast,
whilst the restless fireworks of lead guitar, harmonica, and lead bass
threaten to explode in every direction. I have been one HUGE Cream fan for decades and I also attended three of the four London gigs (only missing Tuesday); so I think I can speak with a little authority regarding any comparisons.
As for Cream themselves, you could see a genuine warmth and real affection between the three of them onstage in London, that seemed to be missing six months later in New York. I'm not sure why this was the case - but at MSG there was a distinct lack of hugging, back-slapping and chit chat between Eric, Jack and Ginger, which had been the hallmark of the RAH gigs. Eric himself who had been so verbal with the RAH crowd, hardly said a thing last week to the midtown audience - it was largely left to Jack.
Many Americans (perhaps not surprisingly) thought that
the band were better in New York - I disagree.
They were certainly louder at MSG (which is three times the capacity of RAH) but not necessarily better. Each and every gig of the seven had its highlights. There were some numbers which blazed in Manhattan more than in Kensington six months before - I absolutely agree. But the reverse can also be stated. The inclusion of "Tales Of Brave Ulysses" was worth the price of admission alone, and the whole crowd (including me) went crazy for it. However, there was a different vibe about these gigs. It is worth pointing out that the audience in London might well have been largely British - but is was not exclusively so. Nor was the British contingent solely Londoners, with fans travelling from all over the British Isles to be there. There was also a large percentage of Americans there, and indeed people from the world over. In a similar way the majority of fans in New York may well have been Americans - but again from all over the States. There was also a fair representation from elsewhere on our planet of Cream fans - particularly the U.K. - but also Australia, Japan and other parts of Europe.
Some Americans had told me they hated the Garden as a venue. I assumed - since this place is part of rock 'n' roll history - that it was acoustics that they poured cold water upon, but after being there myself on all three nights; perhaps I can offer a different take on why Eric seemed so detached on occasion, and why so many fans (including many Americans) felt the atmosphere in London was better.
If any other American starts lecturing us again about how polite and reserved British audiences are,
I will scream. Notwithstanding my points above about the audience make-up; when I was at the Royal Albert Hall
I was surrounded by a great and appreciative rock audience. OK, there were some corporate parties there;
and some of the London Hooray Henry Set who go to any big event in London;
and of course a fair amount of (recent period) Eric Clapton fans -
as opposed to Cream fans; but the majority were there to see Eric and
Jack and Ginger. We did remain sitting for the bulk of the gig, but
that was due to; politeness towards the person behind you; the fact that
some parts of the RAH are not exactly easy to stand in (especially the
stalls and circles) for any great length of time; a generally agreed
judgement as to when you should start standing (towards the end of a gig - at the
end of a song - during encores); and crucially the desire to listen with great concentration.
People were toe-tapping, thigh-slapping and handclapping in their seats just as appreciatively
as they would have been on their feet.
The audiences at the Royal Albert Hall back
in May were totally INTO what the were witnessing!
You could feel genuine LOVE for these three guys back in London in May ... it was very palpable.
Now when I come to analyse the crowds at
Madison Square Garden I come to a completely different conclusion. Despite Jack's complimentary remarks about the New York audience, I don't judge them superior or more enthusiastic by any means. My over-riding memories are as follows - and this applies to a sizeable minority (and is not directed at the majority of Cream fans from wherever they might originate): Firstly, enormous amounts of people (on every night) were constantly up-and-down from their seats, going to talk to people, heading to the bars - in and out all the bloody time. It was highly irritating. I also saw many trendy, spoilt little-rich-kid, young Manhattanites (Ivy League types) who were far more interested in waving to friends; ordering drinks (from an endless succession of eager waiters all over the place); messing with mobile phones; and most insultingly to Eric, Jack and Ginger - talking at length and at volume throughout. This was annoying at all times but particularly unforgivable during the quieter passages in "We're Going Wrong" or "Stormy Monday". These idiots only applauded after tracks like "Badge" and "White Room" - it was quite obvious were their interests lay. These were not isolated incidents and many people complained about it afterwards in the bars - including Americans themselves who felt ashamed and embarrassed by their fellow countrymen.
One guy told me that he believes it to be quite well known, that Eric in particular gets pissed off with all these throngs of people coming and going to the exits. It does present a very questionable view about the attitude of this large minority in the New York crowd. And of course the rest of us were pinned to our seats (doing our best to ignore the apathetic and disinterested morons around us) and hanging on every word and note played by our heroes; transfixed by the unique chemistry that is Clapton, Bruce and Baker. If Eric's attention was wandering, well perhaps one reason at least, was the apathy he witnessed from sections of the crowd. If he appeared keen to beat a hasty exit on Wednesday night - perhaps it was because he was looking forward towards playing at Albert's place again ... where people listen ... really listen ... and drink and talk before and after the gig - but not during it!!!
Despite all of this I loved every minute. I am so very glad I made the journey to The Big Apple see what may well be their second final swansong. I suspect they will not play any more gigs (I hope I'm wrong) - but I wish they would go into the studio and make some magic there.
Howard Johnston (Wirral, England)