The original album was a staple of any rock ‘n’ roll album collection: you might not have owned any other Humble Pie records, but chances are good that you owned 1971’s Performance: Rockin’ The Fillmore.
The double album was culled from a two-night/four-show stand that the Pie made at the legendary Fillmore East in May of ’71. Practicality dictated that the run be distilled to the four sides of two vinyl records at the time (a double album was expansive enough at that point). The fact of the matter is, it couldn’t have been an easy task to pick the songs to include on the original Performance, as the band was dead-nuts-on-and-smokin’ – from the first show on Friday, 5/28 to the final one on Saturday, 5/29.
You want proof? You got it: the brand-new 4-CD collection Performance: Rockin’ The Fillmore – The Complete Recordings documents not only that historic run but an amazing band who could rock as hard as anyone on the planet and get as out there as they wanted to – and then formation fly their way back home after the wildest of jams.
This was Pie Version 1.0: drummer Jerry Shirley and bassist/vocalist Greg Ridley (who died in 2003 of complications from pneumonia) were a scary-powerful rhythm machine, doling out grooves that ranged from funkified excursions to slam-bang rock. Listen to them drive the beast on the multiple takes of “I Don’t Need No Doctor” – Shirley plays off the vocals; accentuates the hip thrusts; rolls and tumbles and thrashes … but never overplays. Ridley, meanwhile, can swing from thudding underfastenings to passages that sound and feel as syrupy as something born and raised in Muscle Shoals.
Guitarist/vocalist Peter Frampton (yes, Virginia: that Peter Frampton – ohhhhh, what a nasty boy he was back then) knew all about playing the blues; knew all about laying down the grit and the grease as needed; but he also knew all about weaving in passages of jazzbo fluidity and making it all work. At a time when most British geetar slingers would’ve given up one arm as long as they were promised that they could still sound like Eric Clapton with the remaining one, Frampton found his own voice – a voice that combined thinking-outside-the-box virtuosity with draw-back-and-let-it-fly ballsiness. Just the four versions of “I Walk On Gilded Splinters” presented here – each totally its own song with a jam that blazes new territory every pass through – are enough to seal the deal for Frampton as a picking hero.
And then there’s Steve Marriott. The late frontman (Marriott died in a tragic fire at his home in 1991) may have been short in stature, but he was a fierce performer. Compare Friday’s first show to the closer on Saturday night: Marriott sounds just as sweat-soaked and fiery from beginning to end; his guitar crunches fenders with Frampton’s in the best of ways; his harp work is pure raunch; and his vocals are … well … they’re classic Steve Marriott : when it comes to dynamics; when it comes to combining the fierceness of a gospel-touting preacher with the recklessness of a Cockney boxer; when it comes to laying it down, rocking out, and getting the job done, no one could bellow and roar like that little bastard and that’s a fact, Jack.
Perhaps the real star of The Complete Recordings is Ashley Shepherd, who mixed the collection. Everything is right here: the explosions of liftoff; the squeals and shrieks of barely-contained 100-watt Marshalls; the crowd noise – and the open-mouthed moments when Marriott and company bring the music down to a pensive whisper and the audience is silent, drinking in every ounce of energy being fed to them. Marriott’s between-tune banter is all right here, as are his mid-jam bluesman raps – and you may even feel some of the sparks coming off his mic stand as he barrel-asses his way through Friday’s first show, shocks and all.
They don’t make ‘em like this any more, boys and girls. They really and truly don’t.
Brian Robbins gets out there over at www.brian-robbins.com