Winterland was one of the most well known and legendary venues of the late 60’s and early 70’s. All of the major bands of the time played there, just like they did at the original Fillmore Auditorium, Fillmore West and Fillmore East. What did these venues have in common? The late great Bill Graham. From 1966 he rented Winterland as it could hold more people than the nearby Fillmore Auditorium, and he needed it for the larger concerts he was putting on. Originally the venue was called the New Dreamland Auditorium when it opened in 1928 and it was used for ice skating and concerts, as the venue could be easily changed between the two. However it wasn’t until 1971 that the venue was just a music venue, after Bill Graham had it fully converted to one. But in 1968 the venue certainly rivalled the nearby Fillmore Auditorium as one of the premier venues in the United States. Other acts that graced the stage included The Allman Brothers Band, The Jimi Hendrix Experience, Grateful Dead, Janis Joplin and The Doors to name just a few. Basically, rock royalty.
When Cream took to the stage on the 10th March 1968, the band had already been in San Francisco for 11 days. On the 29th February and the 1st/2nd March they played their initial run at Winterland followed by two shows at the Fillmore Auditorium on the 3rd and 7th. On the 8th they were back at Winterland for three additional days of shows with two performances on each day. An unbelievably hectic schedule for any band. But this was Cream in their prime and the shows from the 10th March 1968 are legendary as far as Cream recordings go. In fact they might just be at the top of the list.
- Tales Of Brave Ulysses
- We’re Going Wrong
- Sweet Wine
The first set opens with a stunning performance of Tales Of Brave Ulysses, which can be found on the Cream Live Vol II album released in 1972, a full four years after Cream split up. It’s an outstanding version of a spectacular song with all three member of the band in fine form. Jack Bruce in particular sings like a man possessed. The final two minutes of the song though belong to Clapton who takes off into orbit with his solo drenched in that psychedelic wah tone. Next up came Spoonful which would go on to feature on the Wheels Of Fire double album. At just shy of 17 minutes in length, this is the longest song of the first set but one that you wouldn’t mind going on and on. Spoonful is arguably the best “jam song” Cream ever played, as the song itself is firmly cemented in E which gave the band total freedom to do what they wanted when they played it live. This version is a great example of that as they leave the initial riffbehind mid-song and just play.
The third song of this five song set is arguably the most well known Cream recording and one of the best live performances of all time. There isn’t even a debate to be had. Crossroads is a song that Cream made their own and song that has been associated with Eric ever since. This version is THE version of the song that countless people have covered since. The most obvious thing that stands out first when you listen to it is Eric’s guitar playing. There’s no breaks in each solo, no gasps for air, no stops to give the fingers a rest. Just full on blues guitar playing at it’s finest. Crossroads is followed by We’re Going Wrong, and this version is currently unreleased. At the 3 minute mark Eric takes off on a solo that may even rival that of his solo in Crossroads. There’s no doubt whatsoever that he’s playing one of the finest shows of his life right here. Just outstanding on every single level.
The first set ends with a cracking rendition of Sweet Wine, a song which originally featured on their debut album Fresh Cream in 1966. However the live version of this song couldn’t be more different from the studio version, with a Spoonful like jam taking place. The band just go off to another place and leave the audience totally in awe. If you want to know why the music of the 1960’s was so good just listen to this one song. It’s all about the music with Eric, Jack and Ginger totally immersed in what they are doing. Hence the Cream motto “forget the lyrics, forget the message; just play”. There was no-one better at doing so.