Live at Grande Ballroom, Detroit, Michigan USA.
Recorded: 15th October 1967
ReReviewed Sept 2000 based on a new digital copy
NOTE: The production and selling of bootlegs is a breach of copyright laws.
Contained on the 2 CD Bootleg Creamset: Tales of Brave Ulysses, N.S.U., Sitting On Top of the World, Sweet Wine, Rollin' and Tumblin', Spoonful, Steppin' Out/Traintime/Toad, I'm So Glad (110 min approx.).
Creamset also contains: "Sunshine of your Love" from Glen Campbells "Summer Bros Show" (now included on Those Were the Days in greatly superior quality) and "Spoonful" from Dallas Memorial Auditorium, October 25, 1968.
WARNING: Creamset is inferior sound quality, email me for advice on alternative sources of much superior quality. Updated review of a tape version kindly provided by the collector Bob Elliott. Reupdated with even better sound quality - a digital copy of the master tape - brilliant sound.
Uncle Russ Gibb was a lesser known promoter contemporary of Bill Graham - Detroit was less fashionable than San Francisco or New York. Russs Grande Ballroom was a popular venue with many bands because of the enthusiastic and noisy audiences. One classic album (to my current knowledge) was recorded there: MC5s "Kick out the Jams".
About Grande Ballroom
|Cream performed here for three nights from Friday 13th
October to Sunday 15th October. It was close to the end of their first US tour,
which had commenced on 20th August. This tour, while frustrating in some ways
for them (especially sound systems and low pay), had established them in the U.S. and was
at the core of their golden period.
Detroit would have been a good town for the three of them with plenty of black music (Jazz, Blues, R&B and Soul) to listen to after hours. And they would have had plenty of after hours as these concerts started at 6.30pm on Friday and Saturday and finished no later than 10p.m. and on Sunday 6.00pm-9.00pm (an all ages show). I believe this would have contributed greatly to the quality of their performances (plus a good sound system!).
The supporting bands on Friday and Saturday were the Rationals and MC5 (basically the house bands at this time). Sunday the support band was the Apostles. One can assume that Cream was largely an unknown quantity to Detroits nascent Rock audience and MC5 were already becoming a local legend. Cream had nothing to loose, especially on Sunday when they had plenty of time to really lay out. And by then the word had got around and the audience was really responding.
Creamset states that the recordings were from the 13-15th while some bootographys quote the 15th. It is from the 15th as I have been reliably informed that it is one complete show of a single set of almost 2 hours duration. The new version appears to be a complete copy with a tape change between "Rollin" and "Spoonful".
I have listened to the new digital copy, which is very close to the master, and have now arrived at the following conclusions. It is taped off the PA mixer which had a 4 mike setup: Jack's Vocals, Centre Stage, Ginger's announcement, Eric's vocals. The Centre stage gives the drum prescence which is reduced when Jack uses it for the harp. The bass is recessed, because vocals mikes have an inbuilt bass rolloff, and treble is prominent . The mix was pa into left channel and a standalone mike on the guitar on the right. Eric's mike was away from the drums so plenty of guitar. Quality was high as a mains powered quality recorder at 7.5 ips was used - the recordist had the OK from Russ Gibbs and Cream as he was a musician of some local repute. During Sponful the tape was slowed down to 3.75 ips as he realised they were going to play on. The new copy has a quite smooth transition unlike other copies - a nice tidy up which shows the advantage of access to the master.
Sound quality (new digital copy): as bootlegs go and for this era, excellent (generally rated by bootleg aficionados A, A-). I prefer to rate them against official releases to let you know what youre in for. If the remasters are rated 9.5-10, then these are 6. Vocals are clear , guitar clear with modest mike overload on occasions, bass under mixed but firmly present, drums are Ok except for the bass drums which tend to dissappear when Jack/Eric sing. Tape noise increases with the speed decrease on Spoonful but that is only just noticeable. There is some minor print through (on "I'm So Glad" in particular) and a couple of drop outs. Tape speed is generally slow (flat) to OK.
A digitally remastered version of this new source has lifted the bass (guitar and drums), tamed the treble, rebalanced the channels and reduced noise. The quality is excellent as is the instrumental balance. This is probably the best bootleg available, taking into account both performance and sound.
I believe this most realistically captures their live dual stack sound with the bonus of well balanced drums with very clear cymbals. The sustain on EC's guitar is just phenomenal and is not accurately captured on the official releases
On tour late '67
These are performances of staggering high-energy creativity. They were just blowing and trying something new all the time.
Are they better than the March68 recordings? Well, by then they were playing differently, especially Eric. Also they knew they were being recorded for posterity and that probably resulted in more conservative playing. Even jazz players, who generally prefer live recording, admit to being more careful when being recorded.
The March recordings remain the benchmark especially as reprogrammed on Those Were The Days. But at the Grande Ballroom they were in full flight, taking chances, making mistakes and just roaring. They are more adventurous and exciting without any excesses or dull patches Steppin Out, Traintime and Toad are undoubtedly superior.
These recordings contain the some of the very finest ensemble improvisation, jazz or rock, I have ever heard on record. Often performed at incredible tempos ("NSU", "Im So Glad") and almost free form meter ("Spoonful"). Jack and Ginger are incredible soloing in ensemble: their magical link, despite (or because) of their personal differences, is in full evidence. Their playing is pure jazz just at rocks volume and power levels.
It is Eric who is the real revelation despite his harmonic limitations. The blues based riffs and pentatonic scales are now almost melded into a new form that was to reach is apogee in March. In these recordings he hasnt mastered it: lacking the flow and logical development of the March recordings. However he responds continuously to Jack and Gingers prompts which creates raw and ever changing playing. In particular his constant breaking of meter (especially prompted by the ride cymbals) and use of feedback ("NSU", "Steppin Out", "Toad"). I can now at last hear why he has been credited with Hendrix as the prime introducer of the use of feedback.
Jack has said that Eric became his and Gingers "sort of Ornette Coleman. But we didnt tell him!" This recording justifies that statement as Eric, like Ornette did, takes his blues based playing into new musical territory.
Creams performance reputation has suffered over the years compared to Hendrixs. The remastered live sets alone put pay to that. These performances are arguably superior to anything of Jimis (official or bootleg) with Erics playing on a par with Jimis very best, Ginger shading Mitch and, well, Jack vs Noel, no comparison.
Musical Ratings: Remasters: 8-10, Grande Ballroom: 10(+)
In summary: get it the phenomenal performances more than makes up for the poor sound quality.
Note: This is a musical endorsement only. The production and selling of bootlegs is a breach of copyright laws.
Track by Track
(Times are approximate)
Tales of Brave Ulysses: Much more attack/feedback with the wah-wah. They power it for barely 4 minutes as the warm up. Jack continues humming the melody over the guitar break and he signals the changes.
Tuning up, Ginger "NSU?", E.C. "NSU"
NSU (16min worth!): Eric stuffs up the opening (still out of tune?) but fakes it out by playing off-key). They launch into the jam at an incredible tempo - faster than the new remaster!. Eric does a high volume woman tone/feedback section at reduced tempo with Ginger and Jack just combining superbly behind it. Lovely snare and high-hat work as E & J interact. Tempo gradually increases as they roll to the chorus with Eric doing chords, Hendrix style fills and then a smooth transition into the chorus. Its mainly Eric and Jack locking with Ginger soloing in ensemble while feeding the meter changes - incredible. My jaw hit the floor when on first listening and it continues to every time I listen to it. And it doesnt seem like 16min!!!
Sitting on Top of the World: Short (4 min) but a dirty slow blues like the Wolf meant it to be. A killer solo from Eric with Jack exhorting him yeh!, yeh! and Gingers unique blues style. Guitar turned up flatout!
Sweet Wine (14min): Instrumental starts with Eric Feedback/ Chords, Jack and Ginger inter-playing waiting for Eric to find the groove (he's actually doing some fine tuning up), then they start rolling. Like the March version it involves round robin improvisation with the controlling dynamics rotating between them. Eric uses heavy feedback in one passage including the Tremelo arm then segue into a call/response with Jack, Ginger soloing between them - aaaahhh!, then Ginger joins in, group interplay then Jack and Ginger with Eric using feedback over them. Then into chords, snare drum responses then Eric chording like an ending mode with J & G responding, a pause for a beat with applause occurring, feedback and then back into the jam. A rough transition into the vocals - they'd gone too far out!
Rollin & Tumblin (7min): Slightly Faster tempo than the official release. Fine harp from Jack with less over-blowing. Ginger overruns the stop - catching each other out. Great variations from Eric and lovely brush work, bass drum and high hat from G.
Spoonful (21min): Howlin' Wolf style vocals from Jack, Eric starts the jam with chicka chicka (sorry don't know the technical term) effect. Different dynamic to Wheels but related chord progressions/licks. They start hitting a groove, then almost free form then more chicka chicka, slower tempo and then they take off with J & G locking. Meter is continuously being broken up every time Eric settles into an even meter J &/or G break it. E & J call and response in an extended transition into the vocals, Ginger driving them, particularly with the cymbals, to a series of climaxes. Then riffing, including the Cats Squirrel riff (interrupted by a tape speed change which only causes a slight discontinuity) and "Im going down, down, down". Another climax, then a gentle phase into the vocals. Jack at full shout, great riff variations and G anchoring it to reality then an ending of tapping drumsticks and tapping of bass against the guitar riff, final vocal line, a reprise of the Cats Squirrel riff, then the final chord.
[the new tape reel is noisier - 3 3/4ips instead of 7 1/2 ips?]
Eric: "We haven't finished yet" (calls of I Feel Free from audience).
Steppin Out: Standard start including some mistakes from Eric as he changes tone settings. During the solo he uses a lot more feedback effects and variations in volume, tone and rhythm. Includes Cats Squirrel riff (a clear continuity link to Spoonful). Finishes with feedback, chords and sudden end for a total 11 min. The brushes, foot high-hat and bass drum are superb with Ginger calling Eric on with repeated yeahs. Much stronger and more inventive than March - segues into:
Traintime (7 min): A more controlled version, closer to the Bond days, with much better harp and tighter vocals due to less histrionics. The train rhythm brushes and bass drum are great. Theyve been doing this for years and segues into:
Toad (15min): Ec and J do a feedback break (as the solo starts, Jack calls out "Eric" and you can hear them having a conversation in the background). Ginger just builds and flows - very African! Really telling a story without the provado performance. Does "happy birthday, happy birthday, happy birthday to you on the toms as he builds to the trademark massive climax - huge applause. Probably his best solo that I've heard (recorded that is).
I'm So Glad (9 min): Standard opening and then they let it rip. What is it about this song? They just play at an incredible tempo and group creativity, lots of feedback from Eric including variations on the Marseillaise quote. (Some print through still evident on new digital version but not as intrusive)
NOTE: Sound quality on Creamset CD2 is poor with nasty digital noise.
Dallas Memorial Auditorium Spoonful (21 min): Well they were tired on this tour, especially Ginger (though still capable of a top performance like the Forum!). Its worth listening to, but separately. Jack and Eric are working but not particularly creatively and Ginger is mainly playing snare with limited tom runs. The ending vocals chorus is the best as it rolls for five minutes with E and J swapping riff variations and G inter-playing with them (cymbals, snare, toms, bass) - that just shows they could still do it when they hit the right groove. Its sprawling, meandering performances like this on the last tour that really damaged their reputation.
Since 17th December 1997
© 2000 by Graeme Pattingale