Thursday, February 10, 2011

Steve Miller Band Live wsg Peter Frampton @ DTE July 2nd, 2010

This show is the surprise hit of the year. The pairing of Frampton and Miller is so frequent you would think they were conjoint twins attached at the hip. I actually saw these two blood brothers in 1973 performing at MSU. Miller was the headliner by the force of his then-monster hit the Joker. Frampton’s popularity was steadily building at this point but he didn’t reach superstar status (albeit short lived) until Frampton Comes Alive, a double live album stormed the charts and remained at the top of the charts for ten consecutive weeks. It was voted Album of the Year in a Rolling Stone Magazine Readers Poll. I recall that the show was a modest success. Miller seemed to be riding high yet losing steam where as Frampton seemed right on top of his game, hitting on all the cylinders- great singing and playing. His band was tight and his material was excellent. Frampton even had the cajones to cover, I Believe (When I Fall in Love it will be Forever), an album track from Stevie Wonder’s 1972 masterpiece Talking Book... and he did it up solid and righteous.

This show was almost a replay of ’73 except this time both Miller and Frampton displayed a noticeable generosity of spirit and genuine affection for each other that set up a peaceful laid back vibe…a perfect backdrop for great music and my multi-colored dayglow smile. It was a great night to be alive

Frampton opened with Four Day Creep an obscure Humble Pie song and then he proceeded to dig into his deep catalog of hits and misses like a man possessed – It’s a Plain Shame, Show Me the Way, Lines on My Face, All I Wanna Be (Is by Your Side), Baby I Love Your Way and Do You Feel Like We Do. He performed a few selections from his new album (released on vinyl as well as CD) including a remarkable ode to his childhood Vaudeville Nanna and the Bonjole. Though Frampton strains a bit on the high notes his voice was in good shape and his spirited performance was masterful. He is an incredible guitarist, economical yet fluid. He makes every note count!

The Steve Miller Band opened to wild applause as the made up stage curtain crashed to the ground and Miller began crunching out chords. The band hit it rock hard from the moment they played their first note. Miller started out with Jet Airliner and Take the Money and Sun two bonafide note-perfect seventies hits. They band was vise-grip tight yet fluid and playful and Miller was in excellent voice. The songs sounded much better live than they did on record. I was diggin’ it despite my avowed distaste for this hit-making era of Miller’s career. It seemed to me that he was getting lazy, writing trite lyrics to borrowed riffs. I wanted to hear more Space Cowboy, Dark Hour and Livin’ in the USA. At the time, he was upfront about shifting gears to a more commercial sound. He had this respectable catalog but his career seemed to be foundering, sticking fast in the soft ground. I thought he was just selling out but I wasn’t listening very closely.

Miller’s deep catalog of music and the enduring popularity of his best known songs - hits and album cuts – is only part of the story. The other part is Miller’s live performances. This is the organic link that separates the wheat from the chaff. The dynamic interplay of sound, amplification and nuance, vocals and harmonies give the listener an idea of what Miller was trying to create. Whether perfect or flawed, the performance is living breathing soundscape that reveals the music in its purest form. It’s a moment in time in which the artist and listener are open and alive creating a synergy that elevates both the listener and the artist. It happened to me brother, punched me right in the chest with the force of a 100 watt Marshall turned up full throttle. Man, it felt good. I was like a dog sittin’ back on its haunches and scratchin' that itch.

Miller mixed it up with Peter Frampton on Muddy Waters’ I Can’t Be Satisfied and I Just Got Back from Texas. I enjoyed the goodtime shuffle of Dance Dance Dance and Seasons revealed Miller’s quiet contemplative side in this ballad about longing and the necessary losses that prepare us for another phase of our lives. Serenade was spacey and beautiful – a gem. He returned to his roots with Mercury Blues and lifted several spectacular songs from his new LP Bingo. At this point of the show Miller made a clean hand off to Sonny Charles, the lead singer of the legendary R&B band the Checkmates. In 1969, Charles scored a top ten hit with Black Pearl (Pretty Little Girl). At 69 years young, he hasn’t lost a step. He not only sang his ass off, he danced like a man possessed by the spirits. He goofed on Otis Reading’s Tramp and the old R&B rocker Ooh Poo Pah Doo. It was a hoot of the highest order. Jimmy Vaughn’s Doncha Know was simply exquisite. Miller owned it!

Miller went back into his catalog and brought out an incredible series of great songs Wild Mountain Honey, an acoustic Joker (complete with an audience sing-a-long…and they knew all the words), the insistent magic of Abracadabra, and an incredible Living in the USA. Miller wrote this protest song (with notable anger and disgust) following the violence at the 1968 Democratic Convention. He rapped about our false sense of well-being and the paradox of greening America as we dispose of our “plugged-in devices” such as cell phones, I-Pods and computers. We use them for a year or two and then throw ‘em in the trash and buy another one. Miller groused in his inimitable low-key manner that we are being played like suckers and that the internet uses more energy than a small city (about 50% of our population have broadband computer access). All the while hundreds of geeks up front and center stage were taking photos and videos of Miller while he harrumphed about people like…them. I agree with Miller. We need to unplug and anchor back to the earth. I appreciated his social consciousness rap. People need to hear it. He closed with the 1976 chart topper Rock n’ Me. I left DTE feeling the laid back Northern California Marin County vibe of Steve Miller…smiling.

Bo White

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