By most accounts, Cream took the live concert experience to a whole new level. Gone was the maniacal chalice of teenage worship and bad sound. Here was a trio of exceptional musicians, scruffy and weathered, determined to transfix their audiences with their virtuosity and improvisational skills. On that basis, they were successful. As individuals and human beings, of course, Eric Clapton, Jack Bruce and Ginger Baker had all sorts of issues that ensnarled the creative process and impeded upon further collaboration. After two years, the three agreed they’d come as far as they could as a unit and embarked on their Goodbye Tour 1968, recording shows along the way. The complete performance from October 18, 1968 at the Forum in Los Angeles, California, has been issued as a limited edition double LP set on blue vinyl called Live At The Forum 1968.
Taken from the 2020 version of the Goodbye Tour 1968 four-CD set, the Forum show suitably captures Cream on their final victory lap. It’s a blues-heavy set with the band’s hits, “White Room” and “Sunshine Of Your Love,” thrown in to lighten the load for both the trio and its wide-eyed audiences (though the solos are hardly light). Where they excel is how much space is given to each player — enough to keep the music on edge without losing its footing. You won’t lose your balance grooving to the swinging rhythm and booming bass on “Politician.” Clapton elegantly turns “I’m So Glad” into rapid-fire ear candy. And you just may feel like you’re chasing a train as Bruce blows the harp and calls out the verses on “Traintime.” There’s not a whole lot you can say about “Toad” except that self-indulgent drums showcases like this are no excuse for a band to break up. That was the least of any problems Jack Bruce had with Ginger Baker.
It’s right before they close with a rather upbeat, almost playful “Spoonful” that there’s an announcement about the show being one of their last gigs. Bruce had probably sang the Howlin’ Wolf classic hundreds of times by 1968. For Cream, it was a launching pad for extended jams, which were different in length and execution each and every time. On stage with Clapton coloring the lines in between, Baker tailgating the bounce of Bruce’s bass, it’s difficult to quantify what Cream had become in terms of popularity and maintaining their artistic integrity. Only the Beatles and the Stones had a similar blend of wild fame and coolness. None of that seemed to make any difference. As far as Clapton was concerned, Jimi Hendrix was about to take the baton, and blues-based guitar bands like Led Zeppelin and the Jeff Beck Group were well positioned to fill the void. The influence Cream had on all of the above couldn’t be more obvious than it is Live At The Forum 1968. Enjoy it while you can.
~ Shawn Perry