STONE COLD FEVER: Humble Pie

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A sprawling four-disc box set reprises the Pie’s epochal live LP from ’71, putting the listener in the front row of the Fillmore East. You can practically feel the sweat being flung off Peter Frampton and the late Steve Marriott.

 BY FRED MILLS

 A 5-out-of-5-stars live album on par with the Who’s Live At Leeds, the Stones’ Get Yer Ya-Ya’s Out! and the Allman Brothers’ At Fillmore East, Humble Pie’s 1971 album Performance Rockin’ The Fillmore has held up over the years, and not just because it was a key period artifact of the hard-rockin’ early ‘70s.

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 Not only was the titular “performance”—featuring the twin-guitar assault of Steve Marriott and Peter Frampton, plus the brawny, ballsy rhythm section of drummer Jerry Shirley and bassist Greg Ridley; together they comprised a literal supergroup culled from the ranks of the Small Faces, Spooky Tooth and The Herd—an inspired one, recorded over the course of two days and four shows at NYC’s storied Fillmore East. As engineered and mixed by studio whiz Eddie Kramer, it was also a pristine sonic artifact that placed listeners at home right in the front row.

 You could almost feel the sweat being flung from Marriott and Frampton’s bobbing, shaking locks.

Rockin’ The Fillmore is now a four-CD box by Omnivore boasting the entirety of the band’s NYC stand, both shows from both days. And while soaking in multiple versions of Willie Dixon’s swaggering “I’m Ready,” Dr. John’s voodoo epic “I Walk On Gilded Splinters” and Ashford & Simpson’s soulful “I Don’t Need No Doctor” might seem an exercise in redundancy for the casual consumer, the sheer gobsmacking electricity of these performances is profound indeed.

 Trivia tidbit: I had forgotten that Humble Pie was actually not the main attraction; at the top of the bill was singer/songwriter Lee Michaels, and there was also an opening act, the all-gal rockers Fanny. But from the audience response here you wouldn’t suspect anyone was there for the headliner. Another trivia tidbit: I never knew that Kramer’s original mixes were deemed “awful” by the Pie’s mogul manager Dee Anthony; liner notesman Tim Cohen explains that the audience noise had been mixed down, “and that omission had drained the recordings of the intense band/fan interaction.” So Kramer was duly instructed to remix the tapes, and the rest of history.

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 Marriott in particular is captured in full flight on the album (“at the absolute zenith of his powers,” says Shirley in the notes), bawling and howling into the mic like a person possessed by the spirits of soul men long passed; on “I Don’t Need No Doctor” he turns in some of the best vocal performances of his entire career.  And he’s additionally heard unleashing primal guitar licks that perfectly counterbalance the more fluid, jazzy lines of Frampton – who, it should be noted, was/is a master fretsman whose skills are typically underrated by curmudgeons who only know him from his brief (if culturally ubiquitous) Comes Alive! phase. The entire band performs with an unbridled glee, clearly energized and intent on digging into the guts of these songs, something they give themselves ample time for in a track like “Gilded Splinters,” which runs for nearly a half hour on each disc and cruises the sonic stratosphere one moment, then furrows deep into the strata the next.

Point of fact, yours truly was so spellbound by the original album that I made a point of making a pilgrimage to catch the band on the subsequent spring/summer ’72 U.S. tour (no doubt thousands of other long-haired young American teens were similarly smitten) with King Crimson, plus opener Alexis Korner. By that point Frampton had departed, en route to Frampton’s Camel and Comes Alive! fame; he was replaced by one Clem Clempson, freshly drafted from the jazz-rock tilting Colosseum, who ably filled his shoes. To this day the concert still ranks as one of the loudest I’ve ever witnessed, but it should be noted that Humble Pie was far from just another hirsute band of Brit boogie blokes. This was a group with some serious chops, absolutely fearless in concert and able to take the songs out to the very edge of extemporaneous experimentation, and beyond.

 Listening to the expanded Rockin’ The Fillmore now takes me back to that night. And like me, you won’t need no damn doctor after hearing it. You’ll be feeling just fine. That’s a promise.

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