Classic Rock Corner

Eaglefest with Steve Miller Band & Peter Frampton. July 28, 2018. Smart Financial Centre

Steve Miller (left) with bandmates Jacob Petersen and Joseph Wooten.
Steve Miller (left) with bandmates Jacob Petersen and Joseph Wooten. Photo by Bob Ruggiero
These two classic rock guitar titans had such a swell time last year touring together, that this summer brings a sequel.

As Steve Miller explained during a charming onstage interlude when the pair appeared together, they first met 50 years ago when Miller was at London’s Olympic Studios recording his debut album. There were two other musicians using the facility at the time: Peter Frampton with his band the Herd, and Jimmy Page putting together this new group of his named after a heavy, gaseous blimp…

So it was an evening of big hits (lots of hits), fan favorites and deep cuts, and a two song-collaboration that took things even further back for an enthusiastic and sold out audience at the Smart Financial Centre.

click to enlarge Rob Arthur, Don Wojciechowski, and Peter Frampton - PHOTO BY BOB RUGGIERO
Rob Arthur, Don Wojciechowski, and Peter Frampton
Photo by Bob Ruggiero
Frampton opened the evening with the same cut from 1976’s career-making Frampton Comes Alive! Before bravely (nice!) changing things up immediately with an ‘80s tune most in the audience wouldn’t know, which segued into the elegiac and powerful “Lines on My Face.”

He has been performing his cover of Soundgarden’s “Black Hole Sun” ever since it appeared on his stellar 2006 all-instrumental record Fingerprints. But of course, it takes on a far deeper meaning these days since last year’s suicide of composer/singer Chris Cornell.

Frampton introduced the song by talking about his love for the tune and the time he got to perform it onstage with Cornell at the singer’s request. He ended the tune by projecting Cornell’s picture on the back stage scrim to hearty applause.

click to enlarge Peter Frampton - PHOTO BY BOB RUGGIERO
Peter Frampton
Photo by Bob Ruggiero
I have to say that of all the classic rock performers I’ve seen, none has the palpable and genuine joy on their face while playing that Peter Frampton does, and that’s been consistent over the shows I’ve seen.

He’s also got the timing of a seasoned standup comic, telling an amusing story about having three weeks in the Bahamas to write an entire record, and blowing the first two partying and getting high with guitarist Alvin Lee. Yet, he managed to write two of his biggest hits – both with “Way” in the title – in that last week.

“Baby, I Love Your Way” became – as it usually does – an audience singalong, and show closer “Do You Feel Like We Do” lived up to its classic rock warhorse status, and the audience simply goes apeshit when Frampton sings into that vocoder. The song also proved a nice workout for his crack backing band (that included Adam Lester (guitar), Dave Labruyere (bass), Don Wojciechowski (drums), and Rob Arthur (bass).

His one misstep was an overlong and indulgent “(I’ll Give You) Money,” which overstayed its welcome. Tantalizingly, the set list taped to the soundboard included two Humble Pie songs – “Four Day Creep” and “I Don’t Need No Doctor,” but both unfortunately went unplayed this night.

For Dallas-raised Steve Miller, even he admits that his shows for the past 20 years have leaned heavily on his Greatest Hits 1974-78 record (and indeed, this show included all but one of its 14 tracks!) But you would never think that he was ever bored or phoning it in with a fantastic performance that also had a few surprises for the deeper fan.

Opener “The Stake” was as driving and forceful as ever, and his ‘80s era got nods with the crowd favorites (if a bit trite) “Abracadabra” and “Living in the U.S.A.” – the latter of which he dedicated to U.S. troops serving overseas.

And those hits kept on coming – and with quite a verve. But Miller also took some interesting detours into more space-driven/hippie songs like “Space Cowboy,” deep cut “I Want to Make the World Turn Around,” “Serenade,” and a phenomenal “Wild Mountain Honey.” All were enhanced visually by a cosmos-opening incredible light and projected screen show above and behind the band.

That last song was preceded by Miller telling a long but interesting story about purchasing the Vincent Bell Signature Electric Sitar/Guitar he was about to play. The instrument was purchased in the mid ’60s from a barrel of $125 discount axes in a London music store. It was all that he could afford at the time while in the city playing with Buddy’s Guy’s band.

click to enlarge The Texas-bred Steve Miller - PHOTO BY BOB RUGGIERO
The Texas-bred Steve Miller
Photo by Bob Ruggiero
And though it looks like a Frankenstein instrument with its 19 (19!) strings, Miller told the crowd he was recently offered $250,000 for it, and it will be displayed at the Metropolitan Museum of Art next year during a groundbreaking exhibit of guitars.

Miller’s own band included Jacob Petersen (guitar), Kenny Lee Lewis (bass), Gordy Knudtson (drums), and the secret weapon Joseph Wooten (keyboards, vocals). Wooten got his own extended solo in “Fly Like an Eagle,” right before the boss took one of his own.

In the middle of his set, Miller brought Frampton out to reminisce a bit about their friendship and touring experiences (a picture on of the two of them in their circa 1976/77 guises flashed on the video screens drew a huge applause). Then Professor Miller gave a short dissertation on the history of blues music, and especially namechecking Texas blues heroes.

Understandably given the show’s Eaglefest banner for Houston FM classic rock radio station KGLK 106.9/107.5, the names “Stevie Ray Vaughan” and “Johnny Winter” got far more audience reaction than “T-Bone Walker” or “Lightnin’ Hopkins.”

But what happened next was pretty cool when the pair traded guitar licks and vocals on covers of Freddie King’s “Same Old Blues” and Elmore James’ “Stranger Blues,” both showing what Miller meant when he intoned the oft-toned Muddy Waters quote “the blues had a baby and they named it rock and roll.”

Frampton in particular looked ecstatic, as a proud Miller yelled “Peter Frampton just played blues in Texas!” The Lone Star State got another name check for the “Texas Two-Step” based and countrified “Dance Dance Dance.”

The set was back-loaded with just a few of Miller’s FM warhorses, with “Rock ‘N Me,” “The Joker” and fiery closer “Jet Airliner” getting the most response (sadly, I can’t hear “Jungle Love” anymore without flashing to the Barrone family dancing in the opening credits of TV’s “Everybody Loves Raymond.”).

At 68 and 74 years old respectively, Peter Frampton and Steve Miller offered a double dose of classic rock punch, their playing and voices (mostly) undisturbed by time. And both seemed gracious and genuine in their multiple thank yous to the audience for their support over the decades. Miller got the edge this night for the power and expansion of his set, but both men more than proved the concept that “Guitar Hero” is not just the name of a formerly popular video game.

Set lists
Peter Frampton

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

Steve Miller Band
The Stake
True Fine Love
Living in the U.S.A.
Space Cowboy
Take the Money and Run
Same Old Blues
Stranger Blues
I Want to Make the World Turn Around
Wild Mountain Honey
Dance Dance Dance
Fly Like an Eagle
Rock ‘n Me
The Joker
Jungle Love
Threshold/Jet Airliner
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Bob Ruggiero has been writing about music, books, visual arts and entertainment for the Houston Press since 1997, with an emphasis on classic rock. He used to have an incredible and luxurious mullet in college as well. He is the author of the band biography Slippin’ Out of Darkness: The Story of WAR.
Contact: Bob Ruggiero