On the evening of Friday, March 4th, the Bearsville Theater in Woodstock, New York hosted Kofi Baker’s Cream Experience, the premiere live tribute to the legendary band featuring Eric Clapton, Ginger Baker and Jack Bruce. The show was part of an inaugural run with a rebooted lineup that found the project’s namesake and drummer Kofi Baker (son of Ginger) returning to the stool, while introducing guitarist Godfrey Townsend and bassist Greg Smith. Those who made the trek out on this chilly Catskill Mountain winter night were in for a night of superb musicianship capable of time travel and otherworldliness.
Cream is widely regarded by many as the forefather of hard rock and Kofi Baker’s touring celebration of Cream’s music possesses its own well-seasoned players with impressive resumes. Baker has taken to the road with Steve Marriot (Humble Pie,) John Ethridge (Soft Machine,) Randy California (Spirit) and Steve Waller (Manfred Mann.) Over the past two decades, Townsend has played with Dave Mason (Traffic,) John Entwhistle (The Who,) Alan Parsons and dozens of other rock and pop artists. Smith has toured and recorded with iconic musicians, including Alice Cooper, Ritchie Blackmore, Billy Joel, the Turtles and many more.
Baker has also played alongside his famous father, and both Baker and Townsend have toured with Jack Bruce. Townsend has been part of the Annual Eric Clapton Birthday Show at BB King’s Blues Club in New York City over many years. Maybe it was Kofi’s inherited musical genes, maybe it was his and Townsend’s years of playing alongside or as part of tributes to the actual creative sources of the evening’s subject matter, maybe it was neither reasons or maybe it was both reasons, but one thing is for sure; after the Bearsville Theatre performance, convincing arguments could be made in favor of nature or nurture. The 90-minute set often transcended time by capturing the sound of a Cream live recording from 1968.
Baker’s touring act did more to recreate than it did to reinvent the music of Cream, apparent from the get-go. The set-opening “White Room” proved the three-piece band’s mastery of Cream’s classic sound. Townsend delivered Clapton’s distortion heavy riffage and wah-wah soloing. Smith was on top of the slightest nuances of Bruce’s thunderous and rickety bass lines. Baker tapped into his father’s primal crash-and-bash drumming. Townsend’s hands took on Clapton but his voice took on Bruce, which was so similar to the Scotsman’s that if you closed your eyes and listened, it would be incredibly difficult to tell the difference.
The three-piece understood and grasped Cream’s genre-blurring virtuosity and pulled the audience into a vortex of psychedelic rock, blues, the avant-garde and hard rock. In between songs, things were casual and they joked around with the crowd or tuned up their own gear, but once they launched into the next song, they would take audience on a serious trip down the rabbit hole, into the heady kaleidoscopic worlds of “Pressed Rat and Warthog” or “Sleepy Time Time.” They could take advantage of the venue’s wood paneled-cement floor-high ceiling barn acoustics and power blast through “Cat’s Squirrel” with dizzy belligerence to make a formidable sound that rattled the ice in empty drink glasses.
Whether they were well rehearsed or improvised, the jams were the one aspect of the music that headed for uncharted territory. The extended instrumental passages during “N.S.U.” and “I’m So Glad” used the album versions as a basis but there was subtle deviation that poked around in new directions. Townsend and Smith relied on the tone of Clapton and Bruce but bent their chords and notes in ways that could be more slithery. Baker’s drum fills maintained the beastly energy of his father, in a way that had more jazz groove and less rock edge.
The setlist consisted of many Cream standards but there were a handful that may have caught the crowd off guard. A curveball came in a non-Cream cover of “Presence of the Lord” by Blind Faith, the subsequent supergroup that Eric Clapton and Ginger Baker found themselves in with Traffic’s Steve Winwood. There was an unplanned surprise as well, when an attendee called out a request for “Politician,” which the band honored in the spirit of it being an election year.
A take on “Sunshine of Your Love” brought the evening to a close, capping off an often-mesmerizing performance with very little to rag on. “Badge” was a bit rigid, and “Crossroads” had a little less bite than the seminal Fillmore version heard on “Wheels of Fire,” but could Clapton himself even accomplish such a feat today? The show was the fourth of the band’s debut run so it will be interesting in seeing how this band will continue to honor the Cream legacy.
Sleepy Time Time
I’m So Glad
Pressed Rat and Warthog
Politician” (by request)
Presence of the Lord (Blind Faith cover)
Sunshine of Your Love
What a huge complement to Ginger as his style was never matched but it’s a THRONE not a stool.
If they were a real Cream tribute band the Lead guitar would be standing on the right of the Drummer instead of the left as Clapton did. Hendrix was the first standout guitarist to stand stage left.
correction… Jimi stood Stage Right not left
I made the same observation to Kofi actually. He didn’t really have a reason other that that’s just what the artists felt comfortable with. Maybe if enough fans bring this up they’ll shift positions.
Actually if they were a real cream tribute band they’d be playing behind Kofi Like his old man Lol Happy for Kofi he’s had a tough life his usually very absent father recently had heart problems so he’ll have to carry on the Baker legacy I hope him the Best pray for them both
How about posting their upcoming dates for those that may wish to see them live!
re kofi baker’s jazz influence: ginger was a jazz drummer before he played rock. in 1961 he was the closest I’d heard to elvin jones.
@george neidorf Yep your right but not just Jazz, Ginger Baker was in Graham Bond Organisation(also his own Ginger Baker’s Airforce) which did Jazz but also R&B ,and Blues they were actually a amazing band thats actually were the idea for Cream came from. 4 or 5(sometimes 6) musicians that are indispensable irreplaceable all masters of their instruments. Baker declaring “I’m a Jazz Drummer,get it right” Is a tad funny but accurate 15% Blues, 35% Rock and 50% Jazz, Jazz Fusion one of my favorite drummers forsure people unfortunately attack his personality
Was introduced to Kofi some years ago when he and is Crème Experience opened for Wild Child (the Doors tribute band with the best lead singer to emulate Morrison ever) and was blown away by Kofi’s absolute mastery of all of his father’s work. I’ve seen him preform many times since and am looking forward to his return to my area (So. Cal.) when his journey takes him back here. A very likeable young man who’s fame seems to be just around the corner thanks to his world/Nation-hoping touring recently, and it couldn’t happen to a nicer guy.