Cream : Royal Albert Hall – London May 2-3-5-6 2005

The fanfare surrounding Cream’s reunion in 2005 was as loud as the trio’s final show in 1968, and rightfully so. Over the course of three years, Jack Bruce, Eric Clapton, and Ginger Baker, gave the psychedelia of the era their own blues stamp, and then, with one final performance at Royal Albert Hall, they parted ways, their legacy cemented in the annals of rock and roll history.

Thirty-seven years later, Cream took the stage once again at the site of their final performance, older, wiser, and more refined. But it was a limited engagement – four nights at the London, England, space, and an additional three performances at New York City’s Madison Square Garden – and just like that, the trio who penned such classics as “Sunshine of Your Love,” “Badge,” “Politician,” and “White Room,” was gone again.

But that isn’t the end of the story. In the modern era, few occasions this momentous go undocumented, and Cream’s Royal Albert Hall run is no different. Cream: Royal Albert Hall – London May 2-3-5-6 2005 boasts 19 tracks from the reunion shows presented in high definition and directed by Martyn Atkins.

For a band that lay dormant for nearly four decades, Cream deliver a classic set of well-worn rock and roll songs. Beginning with Skip James’ “I’m So Glad,” the trio proves that they can still lock-in and let loose, using song structures as mere launch pads for expansive performances. However, they struggle to coalesce, and given the time apart – and the squabbles that have plagued the band – the players seem rigid. That’s not to say that there aren’t high points here. Bruce and Baker roll up a deep groove on Willie Dixon’s “Spoonful,” giving Clapton plenty to solo over, and “Badge” allows Clapton to step forward on vocals, drawing  the most passion from the guitarist over the course of the performances found here.

Yes, I said the “P” word, and while the reunion of Cream is, in itself, remarkable, the passion that fueled the band in its formative years is largely missing. They certainly can wear out Robert Johnson’s “Crossroads,” but the fire in their eyes – and in their performance – is largely muted. Bonus interviews with the three members of the band  counter this assessment, and even the cantankerous Ginger Baker expresses his initial trepidation about the reunion, and the joy that he ultimately felt playing, even suggesting that they are better than they have ever been. Unfortunately, Bruce spends much of his time during the interview reasoning away the thought of being a nostalgia act at this point, or worse, a tribute band.

All said, Cream: Royal Albert Hall is a good use of time, if anything, to see the interplay of three musicians who set the world on fire in their heyday. Cream diehards may be left lamenting the sure death of the band that they love, but seeing the trio on stage, in crystal clear high definition, running through some classic songs, is nothing short of enjoyable.

Cream: Royal Albert Hall – London May 2-3-5-6 2005 is out now on Rhino/Eagle Rock Entertainment.