For the 20th instalment of my BOOTLEG SERIES I return to one of my favourite bands of all time, Cream, a band who have been the focus of four previous instalments in this series. This show at New Haven Arena in New Havan, CT from the 11th October 1968 is one of the farewell shows the band played on their last tour of the United States and unlike many recordings from this tour, the band appear to be just getting through the show. That said there are countless great moments on each song and they’re enjoyable to listen to.
They open with the Jack Bruce/Peter Brown penned song Politician, a song that was released in studio form on their third album Wheels Of Fire in July 1968. This song has long been one of my favourites due to the extremely dark and moody sounding guitar riffs that Clapton so eloquently plays alongside Bruce on bass. I’m So Glad comes next but it’s perhaps Sitting On Top Of The World where things really take off, starting with Clapton’s opening guitar riffs played on his Gibson Firebird I, of which can be seen in multiple photos from this show including the featured photo above. Clapton’s Firebird tone is gorgeous yet earsplitting, really hitting you in the core and knocking you for six. His solo at 2 minutes 25 seconds is outstanding and you’ve got to remember that this bootleg is somewhat muffled due to the age and equipment used, but the sharpness of his guitar still manages to cut through. Incredible. There are a few guitars that come to mind when you think of Clapton in Cream and the Firebird is right up there alongside the SG.
- I’m So Glad
- Sitting On Top Of The World
- Sunshine Of Your Love
- Train Time
- White Room
Crossroads is the fourth song and the tone sounds a lot different from the classic performance recorded at Winterland on the 10th March 1968. That’s because he’s still using his Firebird here, whereas he used the SG at Winterland. The tone is thinner and a lot barer at quieter volumes. That said Eric puts in a superb performance on lead vocals and continues to do so when he comes in with the solo. Bruce and Baker are as solid and sturdy as ever, acting as the bedrock for Clapton to do his thing over, which he does magnificently. Sadly there appears to be a portion of the performance missing in the middle of this song which was probably down to a tape malfunction. But we’re still left with a great performance. The band move on to Sunshine Of Your Love which at just under 5 minutes is a relatively short performance compared to other versions they were known to have played. But in those 4 minutes and 51 seconds we’re treated to a monster performance and you’re hit with how big and heavy this version sounds, making you wonder how huge it would have sounded in the actual arena. You’d have walked away with ringing ears no doubt, something Ginger Baker did every single night on this tour.
Things then move in a quieter direction with Train Time which only features Bruce and Baker. It’s probably my least favourite moment of the show but only because you can barely hear anything on the bootleg. That’s put right with the next song though, a storming rendition of White Room. Clapton’s wah tone cuts through and adds a gorgeous psychedelic feel to a wonderful song. Spoonful follows which is the longest performance of the entire show at just over 18 minutes in length. This song was always the one that contained the most improvisation and musical exploration and while it may not be as explosive as previous versions there are plenty of enjoyable moments. Toad is the last song and while I enjoy listening to Baker behind the kit I think having the song to end a show kills the overall mood a little. It’s just him playing and allows Bruce and Clapton to get away from things 10 minutes earlier than him. While I appreciate Baker’s greatness as a drummer, I just don’t feel this performance at all.
Overall it’s a decent sounding bootleg. Not the best, but certainly not the worst. It’s great to hear Cream during this period of their career though but at this show they are essentially playing through the motions waiting until the tour ends so each member can move on to something new. While there are one or two songs that definitely seem shorter than they were only six months earlier in the year, there are countless moments that prove Cream were one of the best live bands not only at the time, but in music history. But if you’re looking for a show that is explosive and dripping with excitement, this probably isn’t it. But for me it’s still essential listening.