To many people today, Cream is simply the group who performed "White Room," "Sunshine Of Your Love" and "Badge" - or it is seen as another vehicle that Eric Clapton was part of on his way to superstardom. (Never mind the fact that he had already hit that peak in some people's minds.)
Yet Cream was more than just that. They were purveyors of the British blues scene, that which some saw abandoned by the Rolling Stones and the Yardbirds. Indeed, Clapton and bassist/vocalist Jack Bruce were former members of John Mayall's Bluesbreakers, arguably the most well-established of the acts in that genre.
Yet Cream's work - at least that part which doesn't get significant airplay - has not aged as well as one would hope. While Live Cream, released two years after the group split up, has its charms about it, one could hardly argue that it is a must-own album for anyone but diehard blues or Clapton fans.
Four of the album's five tracks are live versions of songs you can find on Fresh Cream, their debut effort. And, in all fairness, the live version of "N.S.U." is a rollicking good one, showing the talents of Clapton, Bruce and drummer Ginger Baker without it feeling like anyone is trying to hog the spotlight. Musically, Cream proves they are a tight, cohesive unit throughout the course of this album.
What is lacking, though, is a sense of real emotion, both on the players and what is supposed to be elicited from the listener. Tracks like "Sleepy Time Time" and "Sweet Wine," while not bad efforts, just don't sound like the three musicians truly had their hearts in their performances. The end result to the listener is pure melancholy - that is, you appreciate the song, but you're indifferent to it either way. Somehow, I don't think that was the intention of Cream.
The only "new" track, "Lawdy Mama," sounds like a re-hash of "Strange Brew" in the arrangement, and for some reason, I get the impression that this was a studio track left over from one of their sessions, since I don't hear the audience anywhere. Not that I'm complaining about that, just curious. But if the group was indeed looking to place a forgotten nugget on Live Cream to satisfy their fans, I wonder if there hadn't been a better track to offer. I mean, the box set hadn't been invented yet, so it wasn't a marketing move...
Despite the flaws, Live Cream is curiously appealing, if only for the occasional listen. It's the kind of album you would want to put on to clear out the mental pipes and re-discover some of Clapton's roots. (I do admit, though, I prefer his version of "Rollin' And Tumblin'" off Unplugged than this one, which is closer to the original.) Essential? No. Worth a listen? Yes.