CD Review: Humble Pie – Performance: Rockin' the Fillmore – The Complete Recordings

CD Review: Humble Pie – Performance: Rockin’ the Fillmore – The Complete Recordings
Omnivore Recordings
All Access Rating: A

Humble Pie - Performance: Rockin' the
Fillmore - The Complete Recordings
Humble Pie wanted to play the Fillmore East as often as they could, and who could blame them? As drummer Jerry Shirley says in Tim Cohen’s revelatory liner notes for Performance: Rockin’ the Fillmore – The Complete Recordings, the lavish and expansive new re-packaging of Pie’s much-lauded 1971 breakthrough double-live album, “They had the best sound, the best lights, the best seating – everything about the place was absolutely fabulous.”

Audiences there were notoriously tough to please, but Humble Pie almost always had them eating out of their hand, as guitarist Peter Frampton remembers. Also quoted by Cohen for this absolutely staggering release, Frampton explained, “They either loved you or hated you; there was no in-between. And they loved the Pie, so whenever we played there, we went down remarkably well, and the response got bigger and bigger each time.”

Still in search of that bust-out smash-hit recording that would serve as some sort of validation for a super group so much was expected from when they formed in 1969, Humble Pie and their brain trust at Premier Talent Agency figured a concert album might do the trick. After all, Humble Pie was far from dull onstage, playing with an insatiable fire in the belly and a supremely confident swagger from the very start.

Merging the sublime talents of ex-Small Faces singer and rhythm guitarist Steve Marriott – he of the larger-than-life personality and gloriously ragged wail – and a shit-hot upstart in Frampton with those of former Spooky Tooth bassist Greg Ridley and young drummer Jerry Shirley, Humble Pie was a hot-wired hard-rock outfit onstage, cocksure of their abilities and exceedingly comfortable in their own blues smeared skin. Disappointing sales from four albums and a handful of singles indicated that not everyone was getting the message. It was time to try something different.

So, Pie set up for two nights of four sold-out shows at the fabled venue on May 28 and 29, 1971 that would be recorded for Performance – only a few hearty selections from each were poached for the original release. The headliner was Lee Michaels, but Pie was the main draw. Everybody knew it. And Pie did not disappoint, giving their well-chosen cache of covers and a smattering of originals a sweaty, greased-up workout that showcased the raw energy and wild-eyed joy that poured out of their souls when they were giving it their all.

Every one of those smoldering Fillmore East sets are included in Performance: Rockin’ the Fillmore – The Complete Recordings in their entirety, unedited and sequenced just as they happened. Because of that, the set lists of all four discs are almost identical, but Pie’s raucous and reverent treatment of each song differs in such subtle and interesting ways that repetition never leads to boredom. With Frampton and Shirley overseeing the mixing, quality assurance was not an issue. The sound is pure and warm. Nothing is muffled or meek in any way, and there’s not a hint of artificiality to be found anywhere – the gritty nastiness of their prowling version of Ida Cox’s “Four Day Creep” comes off as positively carnal every time, while the seamy, stomping blues of “I’m Ready” happily wallows in its sinful nature, sometimes coming off edgy and mean and at other times rather fun and good-humored. Their slow-cooked goodness is to be savored.

Discs 1 and 3 comprise the rousing first shows from both days, and the sets lists are similar – with one exception, as the May 29 opening performance closed with a lusty take on “Stone Cold Fever” that was included on the original release of Performance, while the May 28 date has a stormy conclusion, as Pie tenaciously rips and tears through “I Don’t Need No Doctor” with righteous fury. More feverish and humid, the other versions of “I Don’t Need No Doctor” that close Discs 2and 4, which include the second shows of both days, respectively, are looser and more engaging but swing just as hard.

Though volatile at times, as evidenced by Frampton’s dissatisfaction with his shrinking role in the band and his departure prior to Performance’s initial release, Pie had an organic chemistry that was not just logical, but also transcendent and instinctual. Aside from the searing leads and lovably dirty tones, there is a preternatural interaction between Frampton and Marriott that is fascinating to witness, as the play off each other so melodically and with such ease of motion in extended jams on “I Walk on Gilded Splinters,” the old Dr. John number revived by Pie for each show that go on for more than 26 minutes. They never let precision get in the way of feeling and emotion, and when one takes a left turn, the other meets up with him at the crossroads, sometimes taking an alternate, and just as intriguing, route that parallels that of his partner but is altogether different, before they come together again and drive like bats out of hell.

All the while, Shirley and Ridley are tending their own gardens, growing a rich variety of intoxicating drum patterns and cultivating strong bass lines to form a wonderful musical root system. And when the sunny disposition of Ray Charles’s “Hallelujah (I Love Her So)” shines through hazy windows of distorted guitar, smiles appear. Omnivore Recordings has connected us again to that special quality Humble Pie had in concert settings that shook people out of their doldrums and really communicated with them – the long rambling dialogues sung by Marriott during quiet moments creating a sort of connection with audiences that someone who buys a round for the bar might engender, as Frampton’s guitar echoes his lively, jovial toasts and emotional entreaties with clear phrasing that practically beams its approval.

For all of Pie’s esteemed instrumental chops, they valued simplicity and the power of a well-crafted song, but they took them to places their authors never dreamed of, adding more color and sometimes turning them completely inside-out – never disrespecting the originators’ vision and intent. And on Performance: Rockin’ the Fillmore – the Complete Recordings, Pie displays the spontaneity and daring musicianship that made them so electrifying. This collection proves you can never have too much Pie.
– Peter Lindblad

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