Monday, August 13, 2018

Peter Frampton & Steve Miller At The Greek | Lefsetz Letter

Keep on-a rock’n me, baby

It was not nostalgia, at least not until Miller’s encore, when he reeled off a bunch of hits.

The guitar era is in the past. The blues era is in the past.

But it came alive last night.

What on the surface seemed a return to what once was, set in amber in the seventies, turned out to be a completely different experience.

Frampton came out in a t-shirt. More akin to the Allman Brothers than the acts prancing the boards today, from an era where you spoke with your musicianship as opposed to the trappings, your clothing, your production, the effects on hard drive. Somehow Peter has found a way to escape from the prison of his hits. After doing the entire album on the 35th anniversary of “Frampton Comes Alive” you’d wonder where he could go. FORWARD! And what does that look like? A hell of a lot of guitar playing.

The show started with “Somethin’s Happening,” which of course opened the double live album, but I think of it more as track 6 on the album of the same name, when it was then called “Baby (Somethin’s Happening).” This was his dark period. After a stellar solo debut, after “Frampton’s Camel,” somehow Frampton’s career lost momentum, even though the LP contained this cut, along with “Doobie Wah” and one of my favorite Frampton cuts ever, “I Wanna Go To The Sun,” which has more soul than most of the records cut by African-Americans today, at least the hip-hop tracks on the hit parade, it’s all about feel, locking into a groove and maintaining it, letting go, setting the listener’s mind free.

And then came 1975’s breakthrough “Frampton,” which had little commercial impact, but was the blueprint for what came after, i.e. the live album.

And, of course, Peter played “Show Me The Way” and “Baby, I Love Your Way,” but the centerpiece of the show was a seemingly fifteen minute version of “(I’ll Give You) Money” wherein he traded licks with his second guitarist, Adam Lester. Remember when we were intrigued by the band, the backup musicians, who floated from act to act? Watching you wondered what the backstory was of all the players, performing without a net.

And Peter shouldn’t have been doing this. You’re supposed to give the audience what it wants, the hits and nothing but. Concise and note for note.

But this show broke tradition, first and foremost for an L.A. audience it was surprisingly alive, it seemed to have gotten the memo, it stood in applause for the expertise displayed on stage, there was none of the younger generation players keep talking about in hype for their shows, these were people who remembered what once was, and were eager to have their minds and bodies set free on this hot summer night.

Frampton came out loud and brash, as if he were back in Humble Pie as opposed to the pretty boy of a zillion teenage dreams.

It was like the Fillmore. There were two acts. It was a night of music. Not a night out on the town where the audience is more important than the musicians, where it’s all about alcohol and selfies.

And then came Steve Miller.

No one likes Steve Miller other than his fans. Insiders bitch, his brother complains. But it was Miller who revealed the manipulation of the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame when no one else inducted would stand up, I thought musicians were supposed to be free-thinkers.

Miller started off with the David Denny composition “The Stake,” a rip-off of “Rocky Mountain Way” that appeared on “Book Of Dreams.” But there was that groove, that soul that Frampton locks into, an an amazing amount of flashy guitar picking.

Having done his anniversary tour for “The Joker,” Miller too seems set free. It’s like he wants to go back to the era before the hits, when it was about the blues, when it was completely different today.

This wasn’t a show about singing, it was about playing. And boy could Steve Miller play!

Having just seen Jeff Beck a few weeks back it was hard not to compare, but then I realized that all these players had their own style, the highlight of Miller’s set was when he brought out Frampton to duet on a couple of blues numbers, “Same Old Blues” and “Stranger Blues.” This wasn’t on the record, this wasn’t part of expectations. But what these two performers did was EXCEED THEM!

Remember when going to the show was about music, when it was an aural trip, when the band took the fans on a journey?

That’s what it was like.

And despite being 74, soon to be 75, Miller can wail as well as ever, picking on an endless series of Fenders.

But he can no longer sing. He kinda talks the songs, it sounds like him, the keyboard player often doubles him. It’s disappointing, it’d be a buzzkill if he couldn’t still play so well. And then I realized, it was fading in front of our very eyes. For every Frampton who may not have his hair but has his talent intact, others are losing it. It’s not like being an attorney or an accountant, it’s more like being an athlete, you want to say you saw Michael Jordan or LeBron in their heyday.

Steve Miller is no longer in his vocal heyday, but he’s still worth the price of admission.

And I’m standing there thinking it’s time for Eric Clapton to have his guitar world series once again. When he did it in the past, the guitar was still prominent, now it’s faded, people need to be reminded.

This music is timeless, because it comes from the blues, and the blues are coming back, that’s what Greta Van Fleet is all about, that’s what’s wrong with too much of today’s “rock” music, the blues are not in evidence.

And Steve Miller gave a history lesson during his performance. He talked about T-Bone Walker, pointed out his daughter in the audience before he whipped into “Stormy Monday.” And he even played the obscure “Jackson-Kent Blues” from “Number 5.” The hits bookended the set, but in between were the true nuggets.

And you know that it’s true
That all the things I do
Are gonna come back to you in your sweet time

I won’t go anymore. I saw these acts in their heyday, on the comeback tour, why do I need to go again so they can pay for their vacation house and I can relive what once was?

But, actually I did experience what once was at the Greek last night.

An era where the hits were only a framework upon which you hung your improvisation. When music was the highest art form. When you never knew what the night would bring you. When you went to have a tale to tell. When you could feel the electricity of the act channeled into your brain and body.

You may think you’ve seen these guys before.

But you haven’t.

It’s different, they’ve been set free, they’re at the age when they know their legacies are set in stone and they don’t matter anyway. From when musicians were not stars but players, when they followed the music not the financial prospects in the penumbra, hell, Frampton knows that “Sgt. Pepper” movie was a mistake that he’s not only atoned for, but moved far beyond.

You’d think at this late date when there’s nothing worth paying attention to in rock, when the art form has calcified, a show by two old-timers wouldn’t be worth the price of admission. But that would be untrue, they took us back to the garden by going back to the basics, what inspired them, what set them on this journey to begin with.

That big ‘ol jet airliner carried us far away last night.

I wish you’d been aboard.


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