BOOTLEG SERIES #13: Cream – Alameda County Coliseum, Oakland, CA // 4th October 1968

In October 1968 Cream were pretty much over, apart from the remaining tour dates which would end with two final shows at the Royal Albert Hall in London on the 26th November. But mentally they all knew the musical journey they had embarked on in 1966 was coming to an end. Including this show, they would have 20 dates left until the end of Cream as a band but that didn’t mean the music would suffer. That didn’t mean they couldn’t continue to be a live force right up until the end. Far from it.

The band opened with White Room which at this point in time was the standard setlist opener. Before the band launch into the song you can hear the excitement and anticipation in the crowd right up until that opening G minor chord rings out through the coliseum. It’s a good version but you can tell the band are still warming up to begin with, at least until Eric’s roaring solo three quarters of the way through this performance. That wah-wah tone is fantastic, and everything you associate with Cream during 1968. White Room is followed by Politician and Jack is the runaway star here, he really sings like a man possessed.

Crossroads is the third song and this is probably the biggest difference when compared to the famous version recorded at Winterland on the 10th March 1968. What you hear here is a slower version and as a result it lacks any of the fire the Winterland version contains. The song plods along more than it flows, however it does picks up when Eric takes his first solo. It’s almost like the band were in automatic when they started the song and then the chemistry the band created over the previous two years came flowing back to them in a single second. It doesn’t help that the song started slower than it was meant to and when you jump to the end you can instantly hear that the tempo has increased as the song has gone on, and as a result the song ends better than it started. Sadly this a rare occasion when the band just weren’t on it even though they managed to salvage it towards the end.

  1. White Room
  2. Politician
  3. Crossroads
  4. Sunshine Of Your Love
  5. Spoonful
  6. Deserted Cities Of The Heart
  7. Passing The Time/Toad
  8. I’m So Glad

When you think of Sunshine Of Your Love as a live song, you think of the length of the song and what the band did in that space of time. It was common for the band to jam on Sunshine for over 10 minutes but during the US Farewell tour of 1968 the song was considerably shorter. This version clocks in at just over 5 minutes but thankfully it contains just as much fire as a 10 or 15 minute version. Eric’s playing on this song was always fantastic during his time in Cream and here is no different, with his unique tone hitting those familiar breathtaking heights. You do feel like the song could have gone on for longer but this is only a small point to pick up on. Spoonful follows and there’s no worrying about this being shorter. Standing tall at 17 minutes in length, it doesn’t get any better than this. Spoonful is a song that probably best showcases Cream as a band and as a live unit. That riff is infectious and you’re just waiting until the band switch into improvise mode which they do effortlessly at the 4 minute mark. This was Cream at the top of their game, no-one could do jamming and improvising as well as they did it.

Deserted Cities Of The Heart comes next, from the recently released Wheels Of Fire album. This particular version featured on the Live Cream Vol. 2 album released in 1972 (as does White Room and Politician) and contains an explosive solo from Eric. The solo in the studio album is fantastic as well and he channels that energy here with blistering results. It’s followed by Passing The Time/Toad but only the music from the former features, not including the basic backing vocals which Jack and Eric sing together. But before Passing The Time gets going the guitar and bass cut out and you’re left with eight and a half minutes of Toad. It is sometimes tough to listen to long versions of Toad but if you do you’ll know how great a drummer Ginger Baker was and will always be and why he deserves to be named up there alongside the best drummers of all time. The audience erupts out of satisfaction when Toad comes to an end. This is a time when music came first and people went to see bands like Cream because they enjoyed the musicianship and the quality in playing. Toad was no exception and the crowd went wild for it.

The last song, I’m So Glad, begins after a short comment from Ginger in which he says the following:

Thank you. We must apologise for being a little rusty. We’ve all been on holiday. Thank you very much. We’re now going to do I’m So Glad, thank you.

When you look at Cream’s schedule, this show at the Alameda County Coliseum was the first date of their US Farewell tour. The last time the three of them played live together before this show was earlier in the year on the 16th June at the Camden County Music Fair in Cherry Hill, New Jersey. Ginger’s comments definitely make sense after a fairly scratchy Crossroads and a shorter than usual Sunshine Of Your Love. You get the feeling Eric and Jack take notice though because I’m So Glad is a step up in playing compared to the rest of the show.

Overall it’s a great bootleg although not the best out there in terms of quality. It does sound on the quiet side at times and lacks some of the power of other Cream live recordings but the music itself is what you’d expect from a band of Cream’s caliber. After all, there was a reason they named themselves The Cream. Saying that though this certainly isn’t the best show that Cream played, especially when you compare it to other shows like Winterland from the 10th March 1968 or the unbeatable Grande Ballroom shows the band played in October 1967. But that said, it’s still Cream and even on a bad day they dwarfed anyone else on the live circuit at the time.

There’s a satisfaction listening to Cream, knowing that you’re listening to music it it’s very best. These days the words jamming and improvising are seen by many as a lazy way to play but that couldn’t be further from the truth. Listening to Cream (or any band like them) improvising onstage the very best of music because you need the knowledge, feel and confidence to do it so well. Cream showed that for their entire existence and that’s why they were, are and will always be one of the finest bands the world has ever seen.

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