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Humble Pie
Performance: Rockin' the Filmore (Box Set) Valerie Siebert , November 6th, 2013 07:55

Peter Frampton sliced out of Humble Pie shortly before the original release of 1971's Performance: Rockin' the Filmore. Singer and guitarist Steve Marriott's controlling nature and hyperactivity had become too much for him – same as it had for many of Marriott's collaborators before and after. In fact, during the stint at the Filmore East, prankster Marriott took the liberty of urinating in Frampton's hotel closet, leaving him to "put up with the stench for several days," he told Rolling Stone in 1977. Tensions came to a head shortly after and Frampton left to pursue a solo career, forced to watch regretfully as Rockin' climbed the charts and brought the band their first taste of international success. Those regrets didn't last long however, with his subsequent solo success and the release of quintessentially 70s talk box monster Frampton Comes Alive! in 1976. It's perhaps testament to Frampton's stage prowess that his most successful album in Humble Pie and his biggest solo effort are both live recordings.

But he is not the standout star of Rockin'. Initially slapped with the label of 'supergroup', Humble Pie were born out of Marriot and Frampton's wishes to escape the teeny-bopperdom of their previous groups (The Small Faces and The Herd, respectively) and find success based on musical merits. Therefore, no opportunity is missed when it comes to demonstrating virtuosity. Rounded out with former Spooky Tooth member Greg Ridley and the young can basher Jerry Shirley, the band were a bluesy and boozy romp that dipped a toe into prog rock waters. Rockin' shows the band at their full-tilt peak, but highlights the group's shortcomings as well as their strengths. The highs being their incredible crowd domination, tightly woven lead guitar lines and unique mix of vocals; the lows being the lack of original material, dragged out tangents and occasional sloppiness – though that does bring a touch of ramshackle authenticity. A plus for this particular reissue is that the producing on the release was done by the remaining personnel: lead guitarist Frampton and drummer Jerry Shirley. (Marriott died after falling asleep with a lit cigarette in 1991 and Ridley succumbed to pneumonia in 2003). The four-discs contain the sets of four shows performed at New York's Fillmore East over two days in May 1971, with 15 previously unissued performances and one completely unheard-before first set from May 28th.

The sound (mixed by engineer Ashley Shepherd) is phenomenal - a noticeable difference from the original mix. It left me tempted to empty my wallet at the next shop I saw stocking studio-grade headphones and clear my schedule. The band's total control over the crowd is accurately put on show. At times when the blare reduces to a hush, the clarity of even an airy hum by Marriott is crisp and clean. The separate dirty tones of the two guitars can be effortlessly distinguished and no one singer's voice is muddied in the mix.

The timbres of Marriott, Frampton and Ridley carry a comparable grit and lay on top of one another seamlessly. Frampton's distinctive tenor is firmly sandwiched between Marriott's soulful belting on the high end and Ridley's masculine low tones – though Marriott is the one true acrobat and hits more notes than a bank robber over this sprawling collection.

Drummer Jerry Shirley was just 19-years-old when the recordings were made, but proves a solid backing for the expansive twiddling – certainly more suited to the job than the groggy style of Small Faces drummer Kenney Jones. Perhaps most importantly, Shirley doesn't get in anyone's way. The highlight track of the album, a cover of Ray Charles' 'Hallelujah (I Love Her So)', is a warm hug each of the four times the band launches into it on this collection, following their famously lengthy interpretations of Dr John's 'I Walk On Gilded Splinters'. 'Hallelujah' braves the ages the best and benefits unbelievably from Shepherd's mix – the first notes crunch like a car being trash compacted in comparison to the original, even if the quality of the guitar soloing isn't always consistent (re: CD 3's version).

On the negative side, you can nearly get through any one of the Ramones' first four albums in the time it takes to sit through a single Humble Pie rendition of 'Gilded Splinters'. The four versions on this box set range in length from 26:06 to 27:34. And while there is some excellent Frampton guitar work and the forboding ascending intros are juxtaposed beautifully with the audience's quiet banter/guttural outbursts, this is just too much. The difference between the versions is not notable enough to justify them all save for completion's sake. But then again, the simple creation of this collection is going to appeal most to completists. The analytical fan will revel most in comparing the improvised sections of the different versions. Marriott in particular still has a thriving and passionate fanbase, members of which will love hearing him on fine cockney-jabbering form here. And thanks to this excellent mix, you can hear every shriek, every shout of "sing it Steve" and even perceive the distances of spattered laughter from the crowd during Marriott's blues rap-riffing during the versions of Muddy Waters' 'Rolling Stone'.

The only one drawback of the transformed sound is that the strain on the three men's voices is painfully obvious. The scratchiness is so vivid it sounds like they have been gargling razors. You may find your hand moving to your throat in sympathy.

Another disappointment with this release – well, with the original too – is the lack of self-penned material. Four Humble Pie albums predate Rockin' and each contains just one cover version. So it seems a shame that 'Stone Cold Fever', albeit a tasty slice, remains the only pure Humble Pie original on this, their most famous record of the Frampton era. It was a fact never disputed, but still a sad truth.

Yet with the un-sequenced and unedited purity of the original sets preserved, this is a great addition to any Pie fan's shelves because it is documentation of the original work. The listener can judge the consistency and improvisational skill of all the musicians involved across the performances and the result is an accurate feel for who this band was at the time. The mistakes are all left in. The only real difference is that now you can hear them better than ever.

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