When Cream reunited in 2005 for one of three sold-out shows at Madison Square Garden, there was a palpable chill among the three members of the iconic power trio. It wasn’t surprising since many reformations are marred by a tangible iciness among members. The members of the Music of Cream were never part of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame act. However, drummer Kofi Baker is the son of Cream drummer Ginger Baker, and vocalist-guitarist Will Johns is Eric Clapton’s nephew.
The Music of Cream, who performed Wednesday evening at the Bing Crosby Theater, failed to play the classic “I’m So Glad,” but the quartet didn’t have to render the old favorite. It was evident the group was having a blast during its robust 2 hour 15 minute concert. Baker, 50, who is as playful as his legendary father was cranky, laughed and grinned at Johns throughout the fast-moving set. The charming Johns winked at the audience during many of his fiery solos and engaged the crowd whenever he had the opportunity.
The tribute act with enviable bloodlines kicked off the set by playing the Cream classic album “Disraeli Gears” in its entirety. Much like Cream, the group, which also includes vocalist-guitarist-keyboardist Chris Shutters and bassist Sean McNabb, took some liberties by jamming out to “Sunshine of Your Love” and “Tales of Brave Ulysses.” What sets the Music of Cream apart from most acts who cover classic rock recording artists are the stories.
Baker dropped an amusing but disturbing anecdote about how he snorted cocaine at 15 at the behest of his unhinged father. Before performing the quirky “Pressed Rat and Warthog,” Baker revealed that his father wrote the tune while stoned. Johns told the enthusiastic audience, which was primarily comprised of baby boomers, that Uncle Eric encouraged him to play an actual instrument when he was goofing around as a teenager in Clapton’s studio.
The capable Johns, 46, who is the son of legendary producer Andy Johns (Rolling Stones, Led Zeppelin) clearly studied his guitar hero. His solos are clean, and he has the license to be inventive. Johns has no problem calling audibles or revamping classics. A rollicking version of Clapton’s smash “Cocaine” was changed to the way much of the country mispronounces our fair city, therefore rhyming the name with insane. “If you want to hang out, you got to take her out, Spoke-ane!”
The goofy London native’s eyes would bug out whenever he belted out Spokane, and the crowd screamed along with him. The Music of Cream has survived the 2018 departure of vocalist-bassist Malcolm Bruce. Shutters and McNabb are the act’s unsung heroes. The former is a gifted guitarist who would occasionally trade vocal lines with Johns. Shutters, who looks more like a roadie in his Music of Cream T-shirt, doesn’t demand the spotlight.
The same goes for the sleek McNabb, who could pass for actor Ethan Hawke’s long-lost brother. McNabb is capable and at times charismatic. It wouldn’t be a night of Cream without solos. Baker, who impressed with unexpected fills, played along with footage of his father during his time in the spotlight behind the skins. There was often video of Cream playing behind the quartet. Only the semi-retired Clapton is still around, but he rarely plays anymore as he approaches octogenarian status.
It’s about keeping the music alive. In the age of hip-hop, it’ll be curious a generation from now when the Boomer generation is history if kids will embrace the psychedelic rock and raw power created by bands like Cream. It will take bands like the Music of Cream to keep the legacy alive. The world of music is a better place with the act since the group doesn’t just play the classics, but it edifies in an entertaining manner.
The band paid tribute to the recently deceased Baker, who died in October, throughout the evening. Baker’s classic “Blue Condition” was souped up. Kofi Baker spoke about growing up in an eccentric life. He had no idea a house with each wall painted differently was odd. Johns detailed how his uncle and Beatle/Traveling Wilbury iconoclast George Harrison were working on the bridge of a song when Fabs drummer Ringo Starr walked in.
“Ringo thought what they wrote down wasn’t ‘bridge’ but ‘badge,’” Johns said. “That’s why I always said drummers can’t read.” Johns smiled at Baker, who smirked back. That type of interplay is a lot more fun than watching estranged bandmates glare at each other while reuniting for a pile of filthy lucre. Long live the Music of Cream!
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