LIVE: Steve Miller Band @ Tanglewood, 7/2/18

Review by Steven Stock

Two performers indelibly associated with the ’70s proved they still have something worthwhile to offer four decades later. It’s easy to dismiss both Peter Frampton and Steve Miller as purveyors of pop music – and they’re certainly still very popular, judging by the huge turnout at Tanglewood in Lenox on a recent stifling hot evening – but the lightweight lyrics and breezy melodies were underpinned by some tasty guitar work and flashes of musical inventiveness.

Miller first met Frampton some 50 years ago at Olympic Studios in London, where Miller was recording his debut album Children of the Future and the 18-year-old Frampton was scuffling with The Herd, a group he soon left in favor of Humble Pie. The two guitarists periodically crossed paths as their careers took off in the ’70s, decided to tour together last year, and had so much fun they’re doing it again. As double-bills go, this one makes a lot of sense: aside from appealing to the same demographic, both feature quintets (two guitars, bass, drums and keyboards) and both share an affinity for the blues.

“We both love the blues, and believe that rock’n’roll comes from the blues, jazz comes from the blues. As Muddy Waters says, ‘The blues had a baby, and rock’n’roll was born,’” said Miller. A highlight in Miller’s set came when Frampton joined him onstage to sing and play guitar on Don Nix’s melancholy “Same Old Blues,” a tune the duo had learned from Freddie King records. The pair followed that with Miller taking lead vocals and breaking out the bottleneck slide for a rousing up-tempo version of Elmore James’ “Stranger Blues.”

The set list was cannily constructed and well-paced, the positive message of “I Want to Make the World Turn Around” followed by the easygoing mysticism of “Serenade.” “Dance Dance Dance” had Miller on acoustic guitar and drummer Gordy Knudtson using brushes rather than sticks. “Gangster of Love” benefited from another slide guitar solo from Miller, while “Take the Money and Run” offered keyboard player Joseph Wooten a rare opportunity in the spotlight with a barrelhouse piano solo.

The infectious rhythm of “Jungle Love” proved sufficient to get even the old geezers that comprised a sizable portion of the audience on their feet, and once they were up and dancing they filled the aisles and ambled towards the stage, coaxed forward by “Swingtown” and “Rock’n Me.” By the time Miller and his band launched into the first encore “Fly Like an Eagle” they were entertaining the happiest bunch of old white people you’d ever want to see. It was as if everyone in the retirement home dining hall hit bingo at the same moment.

Peter Frampton’s opening set struck a nice balance between rock and pop, much as his 1976 double-live breakthrough Frampton Comes Alive did on its way to selling eleven million copies. “Something’s Happening” and “Lying” showed that Frampton is still a capable confident singer, while “Lines on My Face” arguably sounded more convincing on this night than when a 25-year-old former teen idol sang it in 1975.

Interestingly, Frampton was far more eager to talk about his 2007 Grammy for Best Pop Instrumental Album (Fingerprints) than his salad days, and his version of Soundgarden’s “Black Hole Sun” from that recently-reissued LP was compelling. Better still was his nod to the late Steve Marriott and Humble Pie, a rollicking rendition of “Four Day Creep.”

Something’s Happening
Lines on My Face
Show Me the Way
Black Hole Sun (Soundgarden)
(I’ll Give You) Money
Baby, I Love Your Way
Four Day Creep (Ida Cox)
Do You Feel Like We Do

The Stake
True Fine Love
Living in the USA
Going to Mexico
Space Cowboy
Same Old Blues (Don Nix)
Stranger Blues (Elmore James)
I Want to Make the World Turn Around
Wild Mountain Honey
Dance Dance Dance
Gangster of Love
Take the Money and Run
Jungle Love
Rock’n Me
Fly Like an Eagle
Jet Airliner (Paul Pena)

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