West Coast4th October 1967, Alameda County Coliseum, Oakland Calif. On the 4th October 1968 Cream began their final and very lucrative tour of the USA. The tour commenced near the location of their very first American triumphs. Unfortunately there was no venue in San Francisco large enough for them and nor would Bill Graham pay the fee demanded by Stigwood. Instead they went across the Bay to Oakland and the huge Alameda County Coliseum Arena.
Rehearsing "White Room"
They arrived in the afternoon for a sound check and, unusually, a rehearsal. The concert was to be recorded for the proposed 'Goodbye' double album. The rehearsal was needed as they hadn't played together since June, indeed hadn't even seen each other since then! They rehearsed the songs from 'Wheels of Fire' that they were going to play - "White Room", "Politician", "Deserted Cities of the Heart" and "Passing the Time".
At the souncheck/rehearsal - note the recording mike on the stack
The support band was to be Traffic but were replaced by "Its a Beautiful Day".
They launched into competent versions of "White Room" followed by "Politician". These were originally released on Live Cream Vol 2 and in correct order on "Those Were The Days". Eric announces "Crossroads" to great applause. They then proceed to fall apart proving that even musicians of this calibre need a bit more than a cursory rehearsal at the sound check. Of the rest of the concert only the rehearsed "Deserted Cities of the Heart" can be said to be adequate. Ginger says it all: "Aaah, we must apologise for being a little rusty .we've been on holidays."
The concert recording was contracted to Wally Heider Studios. To put it bluntly they stuffed it up with wrong mix and balance. The guitar is undermixed and also he was playing turned down! There are calls from the audience "to turn it up" - also for recording purposes they were only using one stack each.
Despite the poor performance and sound it was actually prepared for release. Obviously when someone actually listened it, the whole idea was dropped. This resulted in some dispute between Atlantic and Wally Heider.
The bootleg source is a reference tape (copy off the 4 track for listening/reviewing purposes) of the concert. It is the best quality of all the bootlegs because of the source. Drums and bass are clear and present with the guitar well back. The official releases were clearly adjusted and even more so for "Those Were The Days" on which "White Room" remains a mixing mess.
White Room (Bruce/Brown) 6.34
Well known from Live Cream Vol 2 so nothing to add except at the conclusion we get some disingenuous words from Eric "Its really exciting to be here".
Politician (Bruce/Brown) 5.16
Crossroads (Johnson arr Clapton) 3.57
The rock masterpiece has been recorded and made available - what do you do next? Well, not this version. It starts at a slow tempo using the riff variation that is his standard version these days. Jack and Ginger seem to hesitate and adjust to the unexpected tempo. Jack tries to get things going but Eric is rigidly locked to the beat. Ginger hammers the beat trying to lock in Jack - his anger is palpable but the problem is really Eric. Eric has clearly been on holidays and one must question if he has been playing any guitar at all. His stretches are poor, vibrato terrible and solo break desultory.
Sunshine of Your Love (Bruce/Brown/Clapton) 5.12
The current single was selling hugely so it had to be included. Jack tries to get some life into it by doing some off-the-cuff variations. The result is a disaster as they fall apart. Even the drum pattern breaks down.
Spoonful (Dixon) 17.09
Can it get worse? Yes and no. Starts the usual way but as flat as a tack. Jack does some vocal variations to spark some life. They roll into the jam with Eric breaking down into his blues noodling and Jack spinning off in the usual way. About half way through Baker gives up on Clapton and starts playing with Jack and it becomes a bass/drums piece with Eric just filling in. If you like drums/bass duets its fine.
Deserted Cities of the Heart (Bruce/Brown) 4.19
Just as well they rehearsed this as it comes out OK.
Passing the Time aka "Scatterfaragus" (Baker) 10.57
This clearly shows what Ginger had originally intended with "Passing the Time". No lyrics just all three intoning a chant of the melody thus the alternate and obscure title (one of Baker's made up words?). They didn't do much rehearsal on this. Baker takes a short, competent solo that has elements that would appear in "Do What You Like". Clearly he also is not fit. His apology at the end shows his total embarrassment.
Im So Glad 7.02
Unfortunately it can get worse - they even stuff up on the lyrics! It is all downhill from there with the song, that always brought the best out of them, degenerating into an outright mess.
Well that's the review of the whole concert. I know the concert is fondly remembered by those that attended. Unfortunately the recording shows that they played poorly. But I must qualify that by saying poor Cream is as good as many bands can ever play. Thankfully things got better, they couldn't have got any worse!
20th October 1968, Sports Arena, San Diego Calif,
On 18th and 19th October Cream played at
the huge Los Angeles Forum and were recorded. Three tracks from the 19th gig were released
on "Goodbye Cream". Wally Heider's recording approach did not change but the
performance was much improved. These tracks plus "White Room" have been
available on bootlegs again via a reference tape.
Sound Check - Royal Albert Hall
The standard bootleg set list from the 19th is : "White Room", "Politician", "I'm So Glad", "Sitting on Top of the World", "Crossroads", "Sunshine of Your Love". The San Diego gig was also recorded and a few tracks from the same source made available comprising "Traintime", "Toad" and "Spoonful". In the usual way of bootleggers these have all been combined and released as the concert of the 18th at the Forum. And as is also typical - the attributions are wrong.
There is no reason not to accept that "White Room", "Politician", "I'm So Glad", "Sitting on Top of the World" are from the 19th. But with "Crossroads" there is a major change - Eric is playing the ES335 and the sonic footprint changes drastically. It is possible that it is from the 18th but the change in bass frequency spectrum is a clear indicator that its a different venue.
The Forum tracks have already been reviewed and as such are among their best even if they are not their most inventive. On "I'm So Glad" Eric's rigid time but fast tempo playing gives the feel of free form against the rampant syncopation of Baker and Bruce.
White Room (Bruce Brown) 6.38 (From Forum of 19th October)
This is an excellent version, much better than Oakland. Unfortunately there was some recording outage and part of a verse was lost so it was not used. The bass dominates the sound with the vocals high in the mix compared to the released 'Oakland' version. The ending jam is fine with Baker powering it along.
Crossroads (Johnson arr. Clapton) 4.29
An all together stronger, up-tempo version with the sound of the ES335 strengthening the performance. They seem to have reached a truce and have now got it working. Again in the post Winterland style. Sound is better balanced.
Sunshine of Your Love (Bruce/Brown/Clapton) 6.40
Things are working and its solid but unfortunately Jack's amp fails during the guitar break - Eric comps and marks time with Ginger. Jack rejoins then drops out again. This indicates they were using single stacks for recording purposes. Jack eventually rejoins to ride it out.
Traintime (Bruce) 9.47
A long and unspectacular version. The drums are nice and clear for once so that is a real bonus.
Toad (Baker) 14.16
Baker is now fit and rolling. Not his best but solid and clearly evolving into "Do What You Like".
Spoonful (Dixon) 15.09
By this stage Eric seems to have lost interest. Again we hear his blues lick noodling approach until Baker gooses him and he picks up a notch. Once again its mainly the Baker/Bruce show. In the ending passage they get into some nice variations and interplay and thats worth the price of admission.
© Graeme Pattingale, 1999