The crowd ranged from sixty-something year old queens dancing without a care in the world to edgy teenagers who felt like they should have been born in the ‘60s; it varied from middle-aged couples looking for a nice night out with live music to whole families with young children sitting on a picnic blanket, all the way to that drunken seventy-year-old man with a long white ponytail, cool black shades, and a Grateful Dead t-shirt. As different as these people may have appeared to be on the outside, they all came together in unison singing “So keep on rock’n me baby // Keep on rock’n me baby” and dancing under the cloudy Maryland summer sky. The crowd wanted to be rocked, and so it was on Friday, June 23rd, when Peter Frampton and Steve Miller Band played at Merriweather Post Pavilion on the sixth stop of their 2017 Summer Tour.
Peter Frampton, legendary vocalist and guitarist, took the stage first, opening with “Something’s Happening”. His set included classic hits like “Show Me The Way” and lesser known songs like his recent single “I Saved a Bird Today”. Every note was beautiful and every chord rang out with compelling harmony, regardless of whether the song was old or new, massively popular or less so. At age sixty-seven, he was very tame on stage, barely moving anything but his fingers along the strings of his guitar as he unleashed sound waves of electric magic, touching every person in the crowd.
The concert was joyous and blissful until, in the middle of Frampton’s set, the music slowed and he approached the microphone with a solemn expression. The air thickened as he spoke heavily of his friendship with Chris Cornell, former vocalist of Soundgarden and Audioslave, who died just over a month ago. “He was a friend, and I got to play with him, this number,” Frampton said as the first chords of “Black Hole Sun” emanated from his guitar. The cover of Cornell’s song was entirely instrumental, allowing the crowd to sink into the deeply emotional music that electrified the air and reflect on the tragic loss of a great rock star. It was a moving number and a beautiful tribute to Chris Cornell, his family, and his legacy.
The air cleared and sadness began to melt away into celebration once again as Frampton transitioned into some of his earlier work and reminisced on his time in the Bahamas. He told the crowd that after spending a gorgeous day at the beach– relaxing, going for a swim, and eating dinner– he sat down right as the sun set and began to write the song “Baby, I Love Your Way”. The audience cheered excitedly as Frampton sang that opening line, “Shadows grow so long before my eyes,” his acoustic guitar ringing out into the night.
After Frampton’s incredible performance ended with the upbeat “Do You Feel Like We Do” and an encore of Ida Cox’s “Four Day Creep”, a wave of warm and happy feelings had washed over the stadium. Everyone was content until a brief intermission left the audience itching for more, itching to sing and dance. The crowd was ready for Steve Miller Band.
An infectious restlessness had spread from the nose-bleeds all the way to the edge of the lawn when all the lights went dark and a cheer rose from the sea of people. In the true of spirit of his name, the space cowboy walked out against a starry backdrop that resembled the galaxies. The classic Pegasus from the cover of the hit album “Book of Dreams” was projected against the stars. On the corners of the stage were smaller projections of the cover art for Miller’s first album “Children of the Future.” Much like the concert set list and its mixture of songs, the stage represented a celebration of all of Miller’s work, from the 1970s to 2017, fifty years after the release of his first album.
At seventy-three-years old, Steve Miller maintained much of the same stature as Peter Frampton. The physical presence in both performances was stunningly mild and did not match the upbeat music. Rather than jumping around on stage or banging their heads to the beat, Miller and Frampton maintained a steady slouch and a composed expression while playing. It was almost humorous and certainly admirable to watch Miller, with his gray hair and black-framed glasses, casually amplify the arena with soul-shattering music while barely breaking a sweat.
Contrary to the performers, the crowd was in full swing and bursting with energy. Steve Miller Band played for an hour and a half– most of which had everyone from the seventies queens to the middle-aged couples, from the young children to the Grateful Dead ponytail guy, shaking their hips and swaying to the music. The party began with the first note of the opening song “The Stake” and continued to the energized “Abracadabra,” “Take the Money and Run,” and “Dance, Dance, Dance.” As soon as anyone went to sit down for a break, a new song would lift them right back up, especially when Steve Miller invited Peter Frampton on stage to play a cover of Otis Rush’s “All Your Loving (I Miss Loving)” and Elmore James’ “Stranger Blues”.
Just when it seemed like the audience might collapse, the full-powered, rousing rock concert cooled down into a dreamy psychedelic experience. “Wild Mountain Honey” poured out from the instruments and seeped over the crowd. Miller’s smooth voice dripped from the microphone as the mesmerizing stage lights and the kaleidoscope of fireflies floating around the musicians sedated the crowd on that warm summer night. Lights and sounds magnified the air, and the audience was suspended in time.
“Serenade” pulsed some life back into the arena, serving as a transition before Miller blasted into “Space Cowboy” and “Shu Ba Da Du Ma Ma Ma Ma”. He closed with one of his many classic hits “The Joker” and everyone sang along to the famous chorus “I’m a joker / I’m a smoker / I’m a midnight toker.” It is an understatement to say that happiness was in the air at Merriweather Post Pavilion in those final moments of Miller’s performance. The mood was ecstatic, blissful, fervent. The band walked off stage and the arena became charged with cheers, begging for an encore– or, as luck would have it, a double encore.
Steve Miller Band encored with two classic rock jams, “Fly Like an Eagle” and “Rock’n Me”. In between the two songs, the stage took on a dark ambience, and the lights faded from the bright reds and oranges flashing during “Fly Like an Eagle” into deep shades of blue and purple. A psychedelic melody emanated from behind Steve Miller as he spoke into the microphone, “Don’t forget about peace, love, and happiness, okay? Take care of each other. You know what I’m talking about.” With those words of wisdom, the background music amped up and morphed into “Jet Airliner” bringing nearly the entire audience into a full swing of dance.
Both Peter Frampton and Steve Miller put on a spectacular show. When Frampton joined Miller in the middle of his set, a picture of each of them from the 1970s was projected on the big screen. They were young, in their twenties, and sporting long manes of hair– Frampton was even shirtless. Miller made a couple of jokes about their change in appearance and launched into a moving monologue that celebrated his fifty years of friendship with Frampton. The two rock stars created incredible music, likely more incredible than anything they could have dreamt up in the 1970s. Regardless of age, Peter Frampton and Steve Miller continue to remind the world why they are considered among “The Greats” of rock and roll musicians.
Image Credits: Wikimedia