LIVE REVIEW: The Music of Cream 50th Anniversary – Perth, May 26th 2017

Perth Concert Hall - May 26th 2017

It’s a kind of odd concept to think of the sons and nephew of members of Rock’s first ‘Supergroup’ getting together to honour the music of their  fathers – after all isn’t each successive generation under the obligation to rebel against their parents music?

The Music of Cream featuring son of Ginger Baker – Kofi Baker, son of Jack Bruce – Malcolm Bruce and nephew of Eric Clapton – Will Johns (son of producer Glynn) have made it known that they aren’t a tribute act – rather the whole concept is a family affair, and whilst tribute acts may hone their craft note for note, this show is all about the connection to the music – as Malcolm revealed in a recent interview his father told him that “Cream were a Jazz band we just didn’t tell Eric”. And it’s with that spirit of freedom that we begin in the lowest key of ways – so low-key in fact that the couple next to me are convinced there is  support act as the core trio of Baker, Bruce and Johns launch into a rather loose rendition of ‘NSU’ reminding us how much Cream liked to jam.

Of course with the first notes of ‘Deserted Cities of the Night’ its clear who is on stage and whilst there’s still a murmur in the crowd wondering where special guests Robben Ford and Glenn Hughes are we get to know the trio through some wonderfully casual shared anecdotes about their rather famous parents, it’s an atmosphere that the largely grey haired audience who pack out the Concert Hall love. And for the second time this year its wonderful to be a part of such an appreciative audience with barely a cell phone in sight all night!

It’s not until the rather ‘far out’ and jazzy fourth song ‘Pressed Rat and Warthog’ that the first guest – blues legend Robben Ford takes the stage to appreciative applause and adds that extra zing to the sound that had been in danger of coming off a little flat, certainly not for reasons of musicianship, rather the choice of opening material. It’s a blast from the past that rouses a ripple of applause and Ford nails it and more than overcomes the somewhat lacklustre (through improvisation) start.

Amidst the music of course there are the stories and one-liners that the audience love – tales of parents taking acid before playing on stage as opposed to the ‘kids’ who prefer a cup of tea and light exercise. There are stories of younger days – going out to try to buy weed – only to be told their parents had got there before them and then was none to be had! It’s an interesting dynamic in the room and a informal and jovial way of presenting the music that seems to strike the perfect chord.

And then the ‘Voice of Rock ‘ makes his first appearance for a rousing rendition of ‘Tales of Brave Ulysses’ which has always been one of my favourite Cream songs. “It’s been a long time since I visited this beautiful City on the West Coast of this beautiful Country” he tells the crowd, and indeed it has been a mere 41 years since Hughes last visit to Perth. It’s  great rendition of the song with some piercing screams at the end from Hughes, and merely a hint at what is to come later, but for now it’s a brief visit to the stage as Ford takes over vocals for ‘I’m So Glad’.

Now some would argue that you leave the Drum solo until late in the set, even if you allow one at all, but ‘Toad’ is after all is probably Rock’s second most recognisable Drum Solo after Bonham’s ‘Moby Dick’. Even Cream when they last played in 2005 left it right to the end of the set proper but tonight playing it so close to the first break does see a few tiptoeing away for an early refresher in the bar. It’s the lot of a drummer after all!  The trio close the first set with a nice rendition of ‘Outside Woman Blues’ originally by Blind Joe Reynolds.

If set one was the arm up it was a pretty good one, but there’s nothing to really prepare you for the glorious second set which sees the grey haired audience refreshed after a 20 minute breather. It’s a wonderfully convivial atmosphere sat in a room with a group of music fans maybe on average 20 years you senior but hard to accept that Frank Sinatra playing ‘Come Fly With Me’ between sets is suitable for these Rock and Roll renegades!

We’re back after the break with just the trio and ‘Strange Brew’ which really sees Will Johns come to life with a wonderful take on the famous solo. And after that it’s hit after hit – ‘Politician’ hits the spot with a great Ford solo and Ford stays with us to add vocals to a wonderfully warm take on ‘Badge’ before we take a side step into two of Cream’s indulgences – Sleepy Time Time’; for which there’s a nice little story attached about Malcolm’s mum and the meandering ‘We’re Going Wrong’ for which we get a counter story about his parents!

After that rather polarising section (the guy in front of me is in raptures and his partner finding it hard to keep her eyes open) we’re into the glorious crescendo of proceedings. Everything that was so special and memorable about Cream happens of the course of the next tree songs – with both Hughes and Ford on stage we’re plunged into a soaring version of ‘I Feel Free’ with Ford in overdrive and Hughes showing why he is one of the best Rock voices on the planet even as he hurtles towards 70 years of age!

The house lights are up as the band launches into ‘White Room’ which like ‘I Feel Free’ before it gets  standing ovation “This is a house of love” Hughes tell us before the band launch into second set closer ‘Sunshine of your Love’ and he’s spot on – everyone – simply everyone here is feeling it! And there’s even a tea in the eye as those chords, so ingrained in the psyche of all rock fans resonate around the room.

After ‘Sunshine of your love’ the band take their bows and a surprising number of people make it to the exits (one of the dangers of having the house lights up for the last few songs) as a result there must be a coupe of hundred people who miss what for me was the most emotional and memorable part of the show as Hughes walks back out on stage with his acoustic guitar and plunges into the most wonderful version of Deep Purple’s ‘Mistreated’ (which he of course sang along with David Coverdale on the ‘Burn’ album back in the 70’s) I will ever hear: Hughes hits notes you can’t even imagine! Dedicated to those who lost their lives in those terrible events in Manchester its a song that brings the crowd to their feet.  The rest of the band join him back on stage for the song that closes the night – ‘Spoonful’ the Willie Dixon cover that Cream made their own, and with Hughes wailing like a tortured soul we close a remarkable night with the entire room on their feet.

Eric and Ginger and Jack if he’s looking down on us would be proud. This is an exceptional night of wonderful music.