Humble Pie – Performance: Rockin’ the Fillmore – Complete Recordings (review)

Humble Pie – Performance: Rockin’ the Fillmore – The Complete Recordings (Omnivore) review

The new remastering job makes you feel like your in the audience at the fabled venue

Humble Pie gave us one of the truly great live albums in Performance: Rockin’ the Fillmore.  Originally a two-record set, it was cobbled together from a series of four shows over two nights the band played in May of 1971.  Now, Omnivore Recordings has just issued The Complete Concerts, a four-disc set featuring all four concerts in their entirety recorded at the legendary concert hall.

Bill Graham’s famous New York night club was getting ready to close its doors for good and many of the bands that had made it their home were asked to return for a series of shows to bid it farewell.  Humble Pie was second on a bill that also included the all-girl hard-rockin’ Fanny, and the head-scratching headliner, Lee Michaels (who was a lot bigger back then, apparently).  Support act or not, most people came to see Humble Pie, who had gained a solid reputation as a smokin’ live band.

Humble Pie sported the double threat of Steve Marriott (vocals, rhythm guitar) with a young Peter Frampton (vocals, lead guitar).  Marriott provided the crunch, while Frampton, even back then, was honing his deeply melodic soloing, which would later propel him to dizzying heights with his Frampton Comes Alive.

This is one of the few live albums that still sounds as fresh today as it did over 40 years ago.  What sets it apart is the fury the band plays with – it’s as if they’ve got nothing to lose, so they just leave it all out on stage.  And, even though several songs are extremely long, it never borders on wanking – every note has a purpose.

This new set, remixed with help from both Frampton and drummer Jerry Shirley, blows the original CD version away; the old CD’s were blanketed with crappy noise reduction, which squished the live energy of this record.  Here, it’s been set free.

But, the sonic upgrade is just the beginning with this fantastic box set.  The band’s ferocious, go-for-broke approach wasn’t limited to the performances that got released – they were on fire for all four shows.  Although the track listing remained mostly the same for all the concerts, the band never played the same song twice.  It’s hearing these differences that makes this set so revelatory.

Of the six songs in their original set, two of them were Ray Charles’ numbers: the boogie blues of “Hallelujah (I Love Her So),” and the stone-cold classic, “I Don’t Need No Doctor,” which bears little resemblance to the Charles’ original in its searing hard rock.  While the version from the second show is the one that made the original album, the fourth show’s rendition is meaner sounding.  The bottom line: you would’ve paid good money to see any one of these shows.

Dr. John’s “I Walk on Gilded Splinters” is the album’s tour de force.  Clocking in at over 25 minutes, the track starts quiet and slow, then revs up to double time rocking, only to slow down again, with an extended Marriott harmonica solo in the middle.  The band approached this song differently for each set.

Disc one covers the first show, which was originally marred in technical issues.  Marriott comments several times about being shocked by an ungrounded microphone (hearing him swear in his strong British accent is worth the price of the set alone).  Modern technology was able to correct those problems, and present yet another fine performance from the band.

Marriott mentions at the open of the third show (on disc 3) that they were running short on time and would have to shorten the set.  As a result, they do not play the usual show-stopper “I Don’t Need No Doctor,” but instead dip into their back catalog for “Stone Cold Fever” – the one time they did that song in the four shows, but it was good enough to make the final album.

By the time this album got released in November of 1971, Frampton had already quit the band, setting out on a journey that would fulfill some of the promises of his original band.  Despite releasing ten studio albums, Humble Pie will forever been remembered for this blistering live set.  Performance: Rockin’ the Fillmore – The Complete Recordings shows that it was no fluke – these guys could really kick ass.  –Tony Peters