Cream, Royal Albert Hall, London

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The Independent Culture

In the weeks leading up to Cream's reunion concert, questions were raised by worried fans.

In the weeks leading up to Cream's reunion concert, questions were raised by worried fans. Would Eric, Jack and Ginger be able to recreate the splendour of their prime? Weren't they a bit too old to pull off the power-trio formula? Would Ginger get to do "Toad"? Could any concert really be worth the £125 ticket price? And perhaps most pressing of all, given the age of most of the audience, would we be able to hear afterwards? Well, in order: yes, no, yes, maybe, and pardon?

As it happens, this superannuated, bus-pass-qualified edition of the heaviest group of the 1960s was, if anything, better than its younger version. We shouldn't be surprised: all three have developed immeasurably as musicians since the demise of Cream.

Jack Bruce recently claimed that, at their inception, the group were an improvising free-jazz trio. And, as improvising groups are prone to do, they often seemed to be playing three different things. But at tonight's show, there is arguably more genuine interplay between Jack and Eric on "Spoonful" than in the entire umpteen-minute live version on Wheels of Fire. They seem to be enjoying themselves more than legend would have us believe they once did, too, Eric sharing a good laugh with Jack during "White Room".

The song is one of the night's highlights, greeted with a standing ovation just after a blistering "Crossroads" had secured a similar response. The band's promise to play their entire catalogue wasn't quite fulfilled, but most of the obvious bases were touched. "NSU" was a welcome surprise, especially since neither "Strange Brew" nor "I Feel Free" was given an airing; while T-Bone Walker's "Stormy Monday" was the most dazzling of the several blues covers, Clapton's solo a model of restraint.

But Ginger Baker was the night's real star, despite the osteo-arthritis he is reportedly suffering. There's a languid brilliance about his command of his kit, as he dashes out tricky polyrhythms with panache. I have never enjoyed "Toad" on record, but here it's absolutely riveting, his sticks skipping across five skins and cymbals in the space of a second. It closes the set with another deserved ovation, before the trio return for an encore of "Sunshine of Your Love".

Clapton referred early in the show to the band having been "cut off in our prime". "What do you mean?" retorted Bruce. "This is our prime!"

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