After first meeting in 1965, Steve Miller and Peter Frampton knew they were soul mates – according to Miller. Little did they know that in the years to come they would both leave indelible marks on the history of Rock and Roll. In 1976, they blew the music charts apart with albums that left no doubt they had both arrived.
The Steve Miller Band released “Fly Like an Eagle” and Peter Frampton’s album “Frampton Comes Alive” launched him into the rarified air of certified pop idol.
Far removed those heady days of hit after hit, these two guitar legends have finally come full circle and teamed up for this tour.
Frampton led off the night featuring mostly songs from his seminal album “Frampton Comes Alive.” Looking nothing like the big-haired, teen idol that graced a million posters, Frampton now looks more like a guitar player created by JRR Tolkien. Watching him dance about the stage for the next hour it’s hard to remember that he was once so popular that he was cast as Billy Shears for the Beatles movie “Sergeant Peppers Lonely Hearts Club Band.”
While time has taken away his boyish looks and blonde locks, it has taken away nothing from his abilities as a master guitarsmith. Playing like a man who is far past being self-aware he now looks like he is playing for the sheer love of the music.
It was a joy to watch him play and a gift to hear it.
By the time the band was tearing through “I’ll Give You Money” Frampton was killing it with tasty blues riffs and hammering solos. If these sounds were coming from a group of 20 years old’s at Coachella they’d be building monuments to them and filling up social media accounts talking about them.
Like all good storytellers with a little grey on the mop, Frampton took the moments in between songs to fill in the gaps on the good old days, and how certain songs came to be. He talked during one break about needing to complete an entire album in 3 weeks in Nassau in the Bahamas. After spotting his mate Alvin Lee at the airport on arrival he soon found himself 2 weeks in, with nothing, not even memories, of how those two weeks had been spent and desperately needing to “get on his skates” and bang out some songs. That panic led soon thereafter to a couple of his most popular hits “Show Me The Way” and “Baby, I love Your Way,” which he promptly played for us.
At this stage in his career when he plays songs like these the audience does more of the singing than he does, and yeah, it’s kind of cheesy, what with all the hand waving and everything. But if moments like these come off as a little embarrassing, well, we should all be so lucky.
Bringing out the original guitar that he wrote “Do You Feel Like We Do” on Frampton, gave the crowd one last rush. This song was built around the idea of power chords and blistering solos. In concert, it also worked perfectly as an improvisational medium for Peter to work out any last musical whims before ceding the stage to the Steve Miller Band.
After a short break to retool the gear, Steve Miller and band took center stage for what turned out to be quite a ride. I’ve seen Miller a few times and his voice always seems to defy age, but he was in especially fine voice this evening, hitting those soaring high notes with ease.
As much as I love Steve Miller and surely enjoyed this show, I must admit that starting the evening off with the tragically popular song “Abracadabra” was just as painful an experience as the first time I heard it years ago. I have no idea how a man with Miller’s musical background could have written such a song, much less continues to play it. I mean, his Godfather is Les Paul! That’s not a joke. He really is.
The next song got things back on track thankfully. “Living in the USA” was written 50 years ago but touches on topics that are just as prescient today. Hitting on racial and social tones and plastic values, it ironically ends with the line “Somebody get me a cheeseburger!”, which only seems fitting.
The song “Space Cowboy” served as recap and pre-cap of what was and what was to come back when it was written, and it served the same purpose in concert, setting up some of the remaining tunes for the night.
“Take The Money And Run” rolled out next, and the fast-paced tale of two young lovers bent on a fast life of crime straight out of a Sam Peckinpah movie got the crowd on its feet and had the ladies dancing in the aisles.
After those first few songs, Miller brought out local guitar legend Jimmy Vaughan, much to the delight of the crowd. Vaughan is a crowd favorite for sure and for good reason. With the same blood running through his veins as his brother Stevie Ray, Jimmy plays the guitar with an authenticity that you just can’t replicate, and his playing and presence added a gravitas to the stage.
With the addition of Jimmy on stage, Miller took a musical turn back in time and played the best set of the night. Tearing through old Freddie King and T Bone Walker blues songs like “Same Old Blues” and “Stormy Monday,” Miller and Vaughan traded licks back and forth and gave the crowd a lesson in good old-fashioned blue-eyed soul at it’s dirty best. It was a sonic master class in the blues that I was sure happy to be present for.
But school wasn’t out just yet as Miller invited Frampton to join them on stage as well.
Frampton and Miller had originally toured together in the early 70’s long before they became legends. Playing mostly the old vaudeville circuits, they only hoped then to earn a few dollars and pounds. Over 50 years later, here they were once again, on stage playing the blues. The saying goes that the Blues had a baby and they called it Rock and Roll. Frampton, Jimmy and Steve together on the stage tonight showed just how beautiful that baby was when all three lit up the Freddie King hit, “Same Old Blues.” Frampton took lead first, chopping it up with crisp, blistering playing and Vaughan returned fire. After a few turns back and forth Miller slid in and joined the fun, melting down a few shreds of his own.
It was a glorious sight for sure.
After that amazing three-way guitar-gasm it took a few songs for the band to get back on its footing. It was just a lot to follow up on.
“I Want To Make The World Turn Around” was beautiful and melodic and served almost as a sonic break for the fire that just was. Miller then brought out a sitar-style guitar that he bought in 1965 for $125 with money he had just earned from his very first TV gig. In 2017 he was offered $250,000.00 from the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame for that guitar, so it turned out to be a shrewd investment. He originally recorded the hit “Wild Mountain Honey” on this 19-string bargain bin guitar and tonight he played that song on the same guitar once again. It was a real treat to hear that amazing song played on this historical guitar. In 2019 this same guitar will be one of the featured guitars on display at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City.
After playing the Texas 2-step worthy tune “Dance, Dance, Dance” and “Serenade,” the band went into the intro to “Fly Like an Eagle” and played a long-form jam version of the popular song. They quickly followed that up with 2 more hits, “Swing Town” and “Keep on Rockin’ Me” before pseudo-ending with the obligatory fake bows and waves to the cheering crowd, who then cheered until the band returned for a few encores. I guess if this schtick was good enough for the 60’s and 70’s it’s still good enough for 2018.
After such a powerful, bluesy show the first encore was a bit of a letdown. I like the song “The Joker,” but the campy version they played tonight felt like Disney had bought the rights to it and were forcing Miller to play it for their next animated movie. That was followed up with another song that left me wanting, “Jungle Love.” Not only has the song title not aged well, but the song itself was slightly corny at best when it came out.
Fortunately, the band had one last hit saved. The lead-in song “Threshold” tumbled into “Jet Airliner” and Miller ended the night with a rollicking version.
The night was a bit uneven at times, but the moments with Frampton and Vaughan and Miller all on stage together blistering through the early blues staples was so memorable that all other sins will be forgiven, and only the sound of those songs will no doubt be left ringing in the ears of those who attended.