LYNN — In 1966, rock music’s first supergroup, Cream, exploded on the scene.
The British power trio consisted of Eric Clapton (guitar, vocals), Ginger Baker (drums) and Jack Bruce (lead vocals, bass) and by 1968, after four studio albums and many hits, they were done, due to infighting and dissatisfaction. The music they created during that too-brief two-year existence continues to thrill music fans old and young.
Thursday night at Lynn Auditorium, the band’s legacy came full-circle: Kofi Baker (Ginger’s son), Malcolm Bruce (Jack’s son) and Will Johns (Eric’s nephew by marriage; his mom is Paula Boyd, sister of Clapton’s ex Pattie Boyd) performed “The Music of Cream: 50th Anniversary World Tour” before a small but enthusiastic and vocal crowd. There were no special guests, save for the excellent James Brown impressionist Tony Wilson, who did backflips during a rousing “I Feel Good.” Otherwise it was just Baker, Bruce and Johns on stage for some 2½ hours, with Baker’s towering drum set anchored in the middle of the stage.
These three can play (all have successful careers of their own) and the music of Cream sounds as innovative and electrifying as it did more than 50 years ago. Skeptics might say this is a cash grab by three young family members of rock and roll royalty. There might be some truth to that, but this is no tossed-off tribute-band treatment. There’s plenty of jamming and interplay between the rhythm section and Johns, who is an excellent guitarist in the Clapton mold, natch, and delivers many spectacular solos.
Your first question might be, “Did they play ‘Toad’?” You bet, toward the end of the show, and Baker replicated his dad’s infamous drum solo. It lasted 17 minutes and was mind-blowing, though it did slow the momentum, as did a lengthy jam on the next song, for an audience that was eager to hear “Sunshine of Your Love” and “Spoonful” and get home before midnight on a work night.
No such problems in the early going. The trio opened with an extended version of “N.S.U.” (“Driving in my car, smoking my cigar/The only time I’m happy’s when I play my guitar”) that quickly proved these guys meant business and weren’t there to knock out three-minute covers. “Politician” (“Hey now, baby/Get into my big black car”) maintained its bluesy, psychedelic vibe. The crowd went nuts at the first notes of “Badge” (“Thinkin’ ’bout the times you drove in my car/Thinkin’ that I might have drove you too far/And I’m thinkin’ ’bout the love that you laid on my table”) and “SWLABR” (“Coming to me in the morning, leaving me at night/Coming to me in the morning, leaving me alone/You’ve got that rainbow feel but the rainbow has a beard”). Why are so many Cream song titles not included in the lyrics!
The heavyosity quotient went up whenever Johns shifted into a blues solo and Bruce played a strong, melodic bassline, especially during Robert Johnson’s “Crossroads,” Skip James’ “I’m So Glad” and 1920s country blues “Sitting on Top of the World.” The playing on “Born Under a Bad Sign” was particularly impressive, with Bruce and Baker embarking on a long, exciting jam. “Sleepy Time Time,” featured Bruce on vocals and included a lovely story about how his mom “wrote” the song while trying to put the kids to bed.
Roars of recognition and applause greeted “Strange Brew” and a 10-minute-long “White Room.” Baker recited the nonsense lyrics of his dad’s “Pressed Rat and Warthog.” It was weird and wonderful.
Vintage film of the original band members were shown on a screen at the back of the stage throughout the show. Band members shared personal stories. A 20-minute intermission featured a short biographical film about Cream, with fascinating descriptions of how each band member approached playing their instruments.
“The Music of Cream: 50th Anniversary World Tour” successfully celebrates one of classic rock’s all-time great bands, and Baker, Bruce and Johns brought to life the music of their dads and mentor.