Review: Cream and Sundance in concert
by Jim Steinman '69
"Pssssssst … hey, listen … Ginger Baker, you know, the Ginger Baker, the drummer for "CREAM", sure you know Ginger, well he's going to be here tonight right here at the New Haven Arena and he's going to do two dynamite shows count 'em TWO only he might not live for the second cause you've heard the rumors haven't you? The stories about his health and well, sure you have, like he might just die on stage right before our own eyes he might collapse like in San Francisco when they had to carry him, literally carry him to his drums and he's on speed you know and some say he takes the big H you know the big one the HORSE sniffing heroine between shows and I mean you could probably check his arm for needle prints; like he only weighs 98 pounds in the nude and even less with his clothes on cause he's all skin - bone - sweat and rhythm thrashing at the beat like some electric flagellator hooked in to all the G. E generators in the whole western hemisphere and he just won't quit like nobody can go on living like that without breaking and you have to die somewhere so maybe tonight maybe here in the New Haven Arena with tickets scaled at a whoppo $7.50 per seat and that's a lot of bread like you dig and it isn't too much to ask a guy to kick the bucket for $7.50 is it I mean this is no $2.50 hole somewhere this is the big time and if he's going to die he might as well do it here at this stupid old hockey rink while he's got the chance and the audience right?
Chrissakes, $7.50, for that kind of bread maybe all three of 'em should drop off … like in New York somewhere Baker threw up all over his drums and played right through it, never missed a beat, amplified puke and all that, he just kept thrashing, now that's what rock and roll is all about that's what's got the cops all uptight, sure … power … Baker works in power - discharge … they're scared of that, right, I mean that's no peace-fag up there you can't say that about Ginger I mean the guy is tough, you can tell that, he looks like a red nail for Chrissakes like a bloody spike and the CREAM well Jeeeeses everybody knows about them … like their music is it, a hymn to the Lear Jet, metal sheets of thunder, just about the loudest drivingest heaviest rock group going like they've got Clapton man, Eric Clapton, and his guitar stings you it burns cuts you open like it's open heart surgery rock and nothing less if you dig metaphors and maybe you don't so what, he's still the best while blues guitarist we've got right come on admit it and then there's Bruce, Jack Bruce, man Jeeeeeeeeses Psssssst Sheeeez they register his goddamn bass lines on seismographs for Chrissakes he plays chords on the bass while everyone else is still looking for single notes and he's just gonna get up here in the New Haven Arena and scowl and whomp out a whole goddamn bush of notes and he's got maybe the best white blue voice in rock you can dance to the rhythm of his vibrato for Chrissakes and then there's his harp playing man like he frenches the goddamn harmonica he doesn't just kiss it he frenches it crawls his freakin' tongue into holes that don't even exist yet, I mean he's just the quintessence isn't he ISN'T HE?! hey man, they're coming, I mean they're here NOW they're here they're coming in it's time it's finally time they're gonna play they're gonna play right now they're right here in the New Haven Arena man I can feel them coming for Chrissakes ! I can feel them coming!!!
HEY wait a minute wait a flippin' socker minute! What's the scene here like what's the gig guys!?? Just look at him, I mean just take a good look at that guy take a look at Mr. Ginger Baker over there, I mean what is this, the guy's smiling Baker is smiling and he's breathing, inhaling and exhaling, the whole bit, like something's wrong here he's not going to croak in that condition he won't even collapse or throw up or anything and look at his arm, man, it's clear it's smooth not even a footprint not even a scar like it's a virgin's arm and he's got some Coke for Chrissakes!
SOME COKE! ordinary Coca-Cola, a bottle of soda and he's not even smoking some dope and Clapton! CLAPTON! he's only five feet tall or something, the guy's just a weenie the kid's a wimp the kid looks like me I could be Clapton big deal and he's giggling and waving like some dumb Monkee or something and BRUCE ! well he's out of control altogether like he's laughing, laughing, and he's happy and his eyes are wide open and even alert and he doesn't look like he's been anywhere near the Mississippi there's not a sludge of much on him what kind of blues-king is that and he's going bald to top it all off, Bruce is going bald and handing out his autograph to all these water softened teeny boppers from the suburbs for Chrissakes from the goddamn vanilla cream suburbs … so big deal … the CREAM … they're just three rock musicians man they even wear watches and Bruce has a Bic pen no less a BIC PEN ! how do you work that into the Dionysian system huh? I mean what's happening here? What am I doing in this goddamn hockey rink for Chrissakes and it's hot and $7.50 a ticket and the seats are lousy and all they give us are a bunch of goddamned human beings … you get more than that in Church for Chrissakes, and no $7.50 there … Jeeeeeesus … pssssssst … wanna buy some grass, huh kid … HUH? freaky huh? FREAKY! … pssssst … wanna smoke some dope … psssssssssssssssssss…"
Well Ginger Baker may not be Rosemary's Baby and the CREAM may be merely human after all but they're more than just ordinary rock musicians once they plug in and play. They're now among the most talented instrumentalists in the world today. I've never liked the CREAM records much. I think they're little more than second-rate copies of first-rate blues artists of the past, motley collections of mediocre original songs, self indulgent soles, stupid lyrics, prissy and pretentious production work.
There have been exceptions of course, the brilliant "Sunshine" and "Politician" being just two, but on the whole CREAM doesn't translate well to records. They are an act to see "live." In concert, muted studio work is replaced by relentless, incredibly hard and rugged rock. Their highlights of course are the three big solos: Clapton in "Spoonful," Baker on "Toad," and Bruce on "Traintime."
Each is a virtuosic tour de force, an obviously blatant blob of exhibitionism that is breathtaking in its technical accomplishment and emotional fire. The CREAM create a surging force, an overpowering ambiance of sheer, unquenchable electronic drive. This is their last tour. Try to see them. The perfect example of music that has to be seen and felt as well as heard, they are now the most exciting, hypnotic act in rock.
The supporting act in New Haven was called "Sundance" and came from little old Amherst College: which is pretty incredible if you come right down to it. A great deal of the credit for this auspicious debut goes to Sundance's manager, Dick Sandhaus '71 who may wind up the most enterprising showman to hit this country since Sol Hurok, Barnum and Bailey and Everett Dirksen combined. As far as the group's musical talent is concerned, and I know we're all concerned about that, well — rest assured, there's an overflow of talent in this group. At the moment there is also a noticeably under-nourished supply of fire and excitement. In effect what Sundance presented in New Haven was a series of unfulfilled but tempting promises.
First, let me get a lot of 'good points out of the way: Craig McNeer '71, is a superb rock drummer, hard sure swift trustworthy obedient and relatively free from body odor and distracting fetishism. His style falls somewhere between Ginger and Dino Danelli of the Rascals. Which is NICE. Jeff Southworth, known as Gary Guitar to his multitude of a fan, is, I !think, one of the very best lead guitarists in all New England and that includes the whole slopped-up "Boston sound." The only one I've heard who's better is the guitarist for "Eden's Children" but his hair isn't as freaky as Southworth's and he's not so endearingly simple … I've never heard Jeff indulge an irrelevant showy solos or needless psychedelic dribbling. He writes beautiful parts, plays them beautifully, is great to work with, and always puts his instrument back in the case when he's done. He has a cat named Sean.
Then there's Tad Lipsky '71, definitely the last belch of the Pepsi generation, who knows every chord there is, and who has a perfect ear, though the rest of his face could easily stand improvement. Lipsky plays some really lovely double-lead-solos with Southworth which he co-writes and also knocks out some funky bassoon lines. His rhythm guitar is tasteful, appropriate, often strikingly original, all rare qualities in the world of rhythm guitar. He also has a fine voice and an incredible store of musical knowledge. Lipsky is sometimes known as "Lightning Shit" for his incredible ability to play anything three times as fast as any normal sane human being would wish to hear it, which doesn't hide the fact that he really knows what he's doing.
Rick Weinhaus '70 on bass plays with the heavy conviction of a tree stump that knows exactly where it's located and has no intention of moving no matter who sits on it … to put it sweetly in a cliche, he's the strong backbone in a group that could soon be loaded with calcium. Outstanding bass lines, all right?
Marty Brody, 19 year old organist, has had 21 years of classical training and spends much of his time reliving it. Brody is capable of astounding musical feats, and as able to produce fascinating musical textures often drawn from centuries of cultural heritage. Which always helps if you're playing a drunken mixer I guess. Very good keyboard work.
Chip Tucker '71, lead singer, has a knock-out sweet-toned rich voice that resembles a mixture of Tim Buckley and Gary Puckett in style sincerity respectively. A strong, piercing instrument that really impressed the New Haven audience.
To deal with the concert in more detail now that I've completed this bloated public relations balloon, let me say honestly that in view of what I think "Sundance" is capable of, the New Haven concert was a major disappointment. It gave many promises as I said, a lot of future, but was in the present a fairly dull bland display.
Part of this problem can be due to the inadequate instrumental sound reproduction. The voices came through magnificently but the instrumental weight was far behind, seeming often muddy, lacking in detail and flabby. Having heard them before, I can see that most of this was due to electronic confusions.
Also, because of the choice of material, which for the most part I found boring, the group never got a chance to break out, to drive, to really open up. In a sense, the songs were over-arranged and under inflamed, too carefully plotted, too "cerebral." The act lacked a visceral punch. They opened with "River Deep Mountain High" an Ike and Tina Turner song that is the true underground giant of all time, an extraordinary undiscovered classic. "Sundance's" arrangement was dutiful and followed the record closely, but lacked the thrust and wild abandon of the original, which had the advantage of multitudes of soaring strings.
Then came "High Flying Bird" in a fairly hard arrangement that is the best of their non-original songs. There was some really fine drum-bass tandem work here, but I think it was still boxed in, and the drum-bass thing could have spread out even further and burrowed down even deeper if the arrangement would loosen up a bit.
Then came two really excellent original songs. The first by McNeer and Southworth, "The Only Child," is a witty pulsating bit of satire that reminds me of the WHO. That's a really fine reminder in a really fine song. The second, "The Starry Professor" by Lipsky and Tucker has a soaring beautiful melody and reflective, almost too sentimental lyrics. The trouble with both these songs is that they're much better suited for recording than concert. "Only Child" leans heavily on its lyrics which are not heard live, and "Professor" is too reflective and broadly lyric to withstand the urgency of the New Haven scene, where the piece dragged under its own weight.
The group ended with two Beatles songs. "Day in the Life" seemed to me to be a calculated attempt to exhibit versatility as an end rather than a means, and lacked total cohesion. or total impact, while "Hey Jude" was a bone thrown to the top-40 crowd. They did it well, but so what? Your reaction to "Mellow Yellow" depends on your taste. It might taste fresh, might taste cute and cloying. Finally, the patter between songs was ineffective, coming off silly and often really heavy-handedly condescending. I know that may be considered an irrelevant point, but it's probably better an all concert situations to shut up or get some genuine feeling across.
So, in summary, what can I say? I know the group and know they're all top-notch rock musicians. I'm sure it will take them a while to find a strong voice, which is trite but true. I personally would like something heavier, less slick, more assault, less spit-polish. But that's my personal taste entering in; I think no matter what style they work on they will probably become a first-rate group in time, which would be really nice to see. They're starting with care, concern, and amazing possibilities. They're not rushing it. Here's one to use in ad campaigns: I think Sundance is going up, straight up. Whatever that means.
Source: Amherst Student archives (Ginger Baker photo)