Peter Frampton & Steve Miller At The Greek

Keep on-a rock’n me, baby

It was not nostalgia, at least not until Miller’s encore, when he reeled off a bunch of hits.

The guitar era is in the past. The blues era is in the past.

But it came alive last night.

What on the surface seemed a return to what once was, set in amber in the seventies, turned out to be a completely different experience.

Frampton came out in a t-shirt. More akin to the Allman Brothers than the acts prancing the boards today, from an era where you spoke with your musicianship as opposed to the trappings, your clothing, your production, the effects on hard drive. Somehow Peter has found a way to escape from the prison of his hits. After doing the entire album on the 35th anniversary of “Frampton Comes Alive” you’d wonder where he could go. FORWARD! And what does that look like? A hell of a lot of guitar playing.

The show started with “Somethin’s Happening,” which of course opened the double live album, but I think of it more as track 6 on the album of the same name, when it was then called “Baby (Somethin’s Happening).” This was his dark period. After a stellar solo debut, after “Frampton’s Camel,” somehow Frampton’s career lost momentum, even though the LP contained this cut, along with “Doobie Wah” and one of my favorite Frampton cuts ever, “I Wanna Go To The Sun,” which has more soul than most of the records cut by African-Americans today, at least the hip-hop tracks on the hit parade, it’s all about feel, locking into a groove and maintaining it, letting go, setting the listener’s mind free.

And then came 1975’s breakthrough “Frampton,” which had little commercial impact, but was the blueprint for what came after, i.e. the live album.

And, of course, Peter played “Show Me The Way” and “Baby, I Love Your Way,” but the centerpiece of the show was a seemingly fifteen minute version of “(I’ll Give You) Money” wherein he traded licks with his second guitarist, Adam Lester. Remember when we were intrigued by the band, the backup musicians, who floated from act to act? Watching you wondered what the backstory was of all the players, performing without a net.

And Peter shouldn’t have been doing this. You’re supposed to give the audience what it wants, the hits and nothing but. Concise and note for note.

But this show broke tradition, first and foremost for an L.A. audience it was surprisingly alive, it seemed to have gotten the memo, it stood in applause for the expertise displayed on stage, there was none of the younger generation players keep talking about in hype for their shows, these were people who remembered what once was, and were eager to have their minds and bodies set free on this hot summer night.

Frampton came out loud and brash, as if he were back in Humble Pie as opposed to the pretty boy of a zillion teenage dreams.

It was like the Fillmore. There were two acts. It was a night of music. Not a night out on the town where the audience is more important than the musicians, where it’s all about alcohol and selfies.

And then came Steve Miller.

No one likes Steve Miller other than his fans. Insiders bitch, his brother complains. But it was Miller who revealed the manipulation of the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame when no one else inducted would stand up, I thought musicians were supposed to be free-thinkers.

Miller started off with the David Denny composition “The Stake,” a rip-off of “Rocky Mountain Way” that appeared on “Book Of Dreams.” But there was that groove, that soul that Frampton locks into, an an amazing amount of flashy guitar picking.

Having done his anniversary tour for “The Joker,” Miller too seems set free. It’s like he wants to go back to the era before the hits, when it was about the blues, when it was completely different today.

This wasn’t a show about singing, it was about playing. And boy could Steve Miller play!

Having just seen Jeff Beck a few weeks back it was hard not to compare, but then I realized that all these players had their own style, the highlight of Miller’s set was when he brought out Frampton to duet on a couple of blues numbers, “Same Old Blues” and “Stranger Blues.” This wasn’t on the record, this wasn’t part of expectations. But what these two performers did was EXCEED THEM!

Remember when going to the show was about music, when it was an aural trip, when the band took the fans on a journey?

That’s what it was like.

And despite being 74, soon to be 75, Miller can wail as well as ever, picking on an endless series of Fenders.

But he can no longer sing. He kinda talks the songs, it sounds like him, the keyboard player often doubles him. It’s disappointing, it’d be a buzzkill if he couldn’t still play so well. And then I realized, it was fading in front of our very eyes. For every Frampton who may not have his hair but has his talent intact, others are losing it. It’s not like being an attorney or an accountant, it’s more like being an athlete, you want to say you saw Michael Jordan or LeBron in their heyday.

Steve Miller is no longer in his vocal heyday, but he’s still worth the price of admission.

And I’m standing there thinking it’s time for Eric Clapton to have his guitar world series once again. When he did it in the past, the guitar was still prominent, now it’s faded, people need to be reminded.

This music is timeless, because it comes from the blues, and the blues are coming back, that’s what Greta Van Fleet is all about, that’s what’s wrong with too much of today’s “rock” music, the blues are not in evidence.

And Steve Miller gave a history lesson during his performance. He talked about T-Bone Walker, pointed out his daughter in the audience before he whipped into “Stormy Monday.” And he even played the obscure “Jackson-Kent Blues” from “Number 5.” The hits bookended the set, but in between were the true nuggets.

And you know that it’s true
That all the things I do
Are gonna come back to you in your sweet time

I won’t go anymore. I saw these acts in their heyday, on the comeback tour, why do I need to go again so they can pay for their vacation house and I can relive what once was?

But, actually I did experience what once was at the Greek last night.

An era where the hits were only a framework upon which you hung your improvisation. When music was the highest art form. When you never knew what the night would bring you. When you went to have a tale to tell. When you could feel the electricity of the act channeled into your brain and body.

You may think you’ve seen these guys before.

But you haven’t.

It’s different, they’ve been set free, they’re at the age when they know their legacies are set in stone and they don’t matter anyway. From when musicians were not stars but players, when they followed the music not the financial prospects in the penumbra, hell, Frampton knows that “Sgt. Pepper” movie was a mistake that he’s not only atoned for, but moved far beyond.

You’d think at this late date when there’s nothing worth paying attention to in rock, when the art form has calcified, a show by two old-timers wouldn’t be worth the price of admission. But that would be untrue, they took us back to the garden by going back to the basics, what inspired them, what set them on this journey to begin with.

That big ‘ol jet airliner carried us far away last night.

I wish you’d been aboard.

Soft Knowledge

The STEM era is over.

For twenty years we’ve experienced the denigration of the liberal arts. For twenty years we’ve been ruled by tech. For twenty years it’s been about entrepreneurship.

Now it’s about thinking. About concepts. About ideas. Not changing the world with products, but analysis and influence.

You can’t compete with the billionaires, the opportunities are too few, and if you gain any traction they’ll squash you or acquire you. As for going to Silicon Valley to strike gold, you can’t even afford an apartment, you’re better off staying home and posting on the internet.

That’s right, we live in a world of art. Of photos. Of essays. Of words. They drive our culture, but the observers and prognosticators can only see the hate, the tumult, the cacophony, they don’t realize underneath it all is power.

Like Breitbart. Or InfoWars. Credit their creators with understanding the new game. They’ve brought Facebook to its knees. They’ve flummoxed Twitter. That’s the power of words.

The left wing reacts, the right wing pushes forward. The left wing thinks MSNBC can conquer Fox, when the truth is the next battle will be fought online. Not with fake news so much as the appeal to millennials.

Most of whom are just trying to get along.

Yes, it’s a different world from that of their parents, the baby boomers who got to protest and play simultaneously, who didn’t have to worry about careers for years, who didn’t have to get serious about money until the eighties. Today’s college graduates are so worried about falling behind that they buy insurance, they go to work for the bank, for the consulting firm, not aware that they’re instantly neutering themselves. Money is so last century. Sure, money has influence, but not as much as people.

I know, I know, this is heretical, but this is true.

The last twenty years were about tech. But when is the last time you were excited about a new app, even a new hardware product? It’s all about refinement these days.

Before that it was music. Music does not drive the culture today because the makers don’t understand its power. You’re supposed to be a reaction to what is, not glom on to it. You’re supposed to give the middle finger to the man, not be co-opted by him. You’re supposed to challenge the listener, not comfort him or her.

And now it’s all about politics. All Trump, all the time.

But it’s also about Bernie, it’s also about Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez

And that’s where ideas come in.

An individual can topple the enterprise, assuming he or she stands up to it.

So now is the time to study art, to read books, to learn how to write, how to shoot photographs, how to tell a story. It’s how Netflix won and the established players are scrambling. Fox sold to Disney which is years behind Netflix and HBO sold to AT&T and you cannot win in the future from inside the old enterprise, revolution is key, a blank slate is key.

Music will be healthy again when acts stop chasing trends. It doesn’t matter whether it’s acoustic instruments or iPads, it’s about confronting people with the unexpected and having them make a choice. Kraftwerk sounded like nothing on the radio, but it spurred a whole genre of music. Same deal with the original rap songs, “The Message” inspired a zillion other acts.

History repeats, but never in the same way. So maybe it doesn’t happen on the radio, maybe it doesn’t involve the major label. Reinvention and exploration are always anathema to the established player.

So turn off “Shark Tank.” Stop listening to “How I Built This.” Start reading, learn how to think, know that inspiration comes when you least expect it and when you act on it you can change the world.

Assuming you’re willing to walk into the wilderness to begin with.

Most people aren’t, they want a safety net.

But there’s no VC for ideas.

You can change the world.

If only you look inside, not outside, realize you need no help other than yourself. If you study the great thinkers and writers of the past. If you know you need nothing other than a keyboard and a connection to the internet.

Westfield Century City

Westfield Century City

It’s theatre.

The mall is dying, that’s what we read.

But in truth, the mall resembles everything else in modern America, there are winners and losers and you get to pick which side you’re gonna be on, it takes a ton of hard work, reinvestment, most people don’t want to make the effort, but if you do…

You know the mall, that’s where the chain stores live.

But not in Century City.

Owned by Westfield. Which was controlled by Australians who recently blew the whole chain out. Kinda like CBS and Viacom. The story isn’t Les Moonves’s transgressions, but Shari Redstone’s desire to merge the two companies and sell the thing, like Rupert Murdoch did with Fox. You see when an industry becomes mature, when it becomes challenged, the behemoths are victorious and the small fry are squeezed out. Kinda like concert promotion, it’s Live Nation and AEG, and then a bunch of also-rans.

The Westfield Century City is a winner.

Now it used to be about the Westfield Westside Pavilion, down the street, barely thirty years old, it’s toast, the retailers exited, the food court became a ghost town and now they’re turning it into offices, kinda like the Sherman Oaks Galleria, which Moon Zappa made famous in “Valley Girl,” it too is now mainly offices.

Only the strongest survive. The rich get richer. Can you say UNIVERSAL MUSIC?

They only redid the Century City mall a few years back. But today, like in tech, he not busy being born is busy dying, you can never rest on your laurels, you’ve constantly got to repair and recreate, kinda like painting the Golden Gate Bridge, you finish one end and you go back to the beginning and start all over again.

But no one goes to the mall anymore, it’s dying.

THAT’S RIGHT!

But there is room for one mall in every metropolis.

Call it theatre.

Call it showrooming.

When I got a Rolex back in ’77 the company didn’t even have an L.A. repair shop, never mind a retail space, but they’ve got a store in the Century City mall. As does Breitling. And Amazon. And Tesla.

I’m wondering whether I need a new Kindle, but I went in the store today and found out I did not.

As for the Tesla, this is the way you should buy a car. I’m afraid to walk on a car lot, I don’t want to be preyed upon by the salespeople, desiring to be my best friend, I’m just looking. And when you look at the mall, there’s no pressure, and you want one. They said I could get a Model 3 in 2-4 months for $49,9 plus tax. But the real closer was the car itself, with the glass roof and the iPad control system. It’s an appliance, more sophisticated and less complicated electronically than a Model S, and it’ll blow the doors off of your gas-powered car of choice.

And they had cornhole.

And Eataly.

They made the mall into a destination.

Now I’m not a shopper, I rarely go into a store, not unless I know exactly what I’m looking for and want to buy it. But sometimes you need to browse, for ideas, for information, you need a physical location for that, the Century City mall fits the bill.

So what have we learned here?

The public only has time for the best, and if you’re not it, find another vertical. Don’t try to be LIKE Drake, BE Drake!

And our country has gone upscale, we’re all aspirational. Everybody wants gourmet food and brand name items. Sure, there’s a market at the bottom, but that’s a race to the bottom, that’s why Wal-Mart is challenged, they cannot grow because too many people want what they’re not selling, no one brags they shop at Wal-Mart unless they’re a Walton.

And experiences are everything. Which is why you must design your website for usability more than look and people still want to touch stuff.

But not a whole hell of a lot of stuff.

The mall is no longer where kids go to hang out, it’s not where seniors go for coffee and a walk. It’s akin to Broadway.

Westfield realized this.

You need to go.

Paul McCartney At The Capitol Congress

You can see all the stars as you walk down Hollywood Boulevard
Some that you recognize, some that you’ve hardly even heard of

“Celluloid Heroes” The Kinks

Paul McCartney did not write that, but he did cowrite one of the Stones’ very first hits, “I Wanna Be Your Man,” and Marc Maron started off asking Paul about Keith.

You should have seen his expression. With enough experience you can handle anything, nothing is new, Paul was mildly upset, he thought it should be about him, one thing you’ve got to know about Paul McCartney is he’s self-confident, he’s not like the rest of the Hollywood stars, saying it’s about luck, thanking God, it was a lot of hard work, and he’s reaping the rewards.

People who worked and suffered and struggled for fame
Some who succeeded and some who suffered in vain

You don’t have to come to Hollywood to make it, but it helps. It’s easier to stay home and play the game of woulda, coulda, shoulda. The truth is it’s nearly impossible to make it, talent is at most fifty percent, there’s desire, there’s cunning, there are no accidents, no matter what anybody tells you.

And this was the semi-annual Capitol Congress, when employees from around the world are brought to the epicenter to find out about the company’s wares, what’s coming in the coming year, what they’re gonna have to pay attention to and work.

None of them were there when the Beatles started. It’s only the artists who survive. The labels are just conduits, the business is just infrastructure, but when done right, the work survives.

But it’s rarely been done this right, in the history of time, there’s never been a new Beatles.

And Paul was one of them.

So he’s flogging a new record. Not that he thinks it’s as great as what came before. But this is what he does, he’s a musician.

And as level-headed as he may be, as much of a survivor as he may be, he has his down moods. He said “Nowhere Man” was about John himself, that by writing it he exorcised his demons, he felt better, just like Paul felt better by writing the negative songs on the new record.

That’s right, Paul McCartney is human.

But if you grew up in the sixties, you don’t believe it, even if he’s sitting in front of you, his music is a part of our lives, one of the building blocks.

Not that Paul was upset about talking about the good old days.

But the most interesting part of the presentation was the stories, musicians are founts of stories.

Yes, he stole the “oohs” from Brian Wilson. Yes, the Beatles competed with the Beach Boys, yes, “Sgt. Pepper” was a reaction to “Pet Sounds,” but even better was the story of meeting Brian Wilson in Derek Taylor’s L.A. abode. Brian came with shades, he was embarrassed to wear them inside, but Paul said it was cool.

And then Brian played him “Good Vibrations.”

You know what it’s like to hear an iconic hit for the first time. Some insiders know what it’s like to hear a legendary cut not only for the first time, but before almost everybody else! Same deal with “Ruby Tuesday,” Paul KNEW it was a hit.

Not that he’s always sure. He said oftentimes the bands are the worst single pickers, that there’s always some expert at the label, how Al Coury called and told him there were megahits on “Band On The Run” and he was gonna make them so, despite the fact that the album was floundering.

And Ringo is an insomniac. Paul never had a roommate, Ringo was the first, he was up all night, in an era where Paul couldn’t get noticed, couldn’t get laid. For twenty years he was not a Beatle, and he remembers.

But life is good now.

But unlike today’s stars he doesn’t live the lifestyle 24/7.

He took the jitney from the Hamptons to the city.

He took the bus uptown. Everybody respected his privacy except for an African-American grandmother who kept exclaiming who he was, so he had her sit down right next to him.

That’s right, he travels sans bodyguard, he doesn’t want to lose touch with the street.

And how he’s managed to be so well-adjusted and have a family life…hell, he’s got eight grandchildren!

But the best story was about making “Band On The Run” in Lagos.

Fela Kuti accused him of ripping off the black man.

Paul had him come to the studio to hear the demos, which were cut before McCartney’s arrival in Nigeria.

Fela said the music was cool, and invited him and his entourage to a party in the hinterlands. Paul felt it was too dangerous and decided not to smoke, which is a rarity. And then Ginger Baker took a toke and Fela remarked how the drummer was a true friend, he never turned down a smoke, so then Paul imbibed too.

And being told not to walk back into town Paul and Linda did anyway.

And were robbed. The thieves took the “Band On The Run” demos before they were cut for the album. Paul figures they recorded over them. Thank god he remembered the music enough to recreate it.

Let me try to explain it.

If you’re under thirty it’d be like having an audience with Steve Jobs.

But Steve Jobs is dead. And the products he created will fade, be superseded, and Paul’s work will not, at least not for a very long time.

And he laments the Beatles broke up.

He says the song people want to hear most is “Yesterday.”

That he loves when the audience sings along with “Hey Jude.”

And interspersed were Lennon stories and you had to pinch yourself, because Paul McCartney had no airs, it was like having the most famous person ever come sit in your living room and act like he grew up down the street.

And I thought it was only my generation, but on the way to the afterparty the thirtysomethings said they were thrilled too, after all, Paul and the Beatles STARTED IT!

So what a long strange trip it’s been, and it’s never gonna come back, and if it does, it’s gonna be different.

It was a generational shift. Before the Beatles our parents ruled, after them we did.

We took over everything, the radio and eventually TV.

And only we knew what was going on. Our parents and the media were clueless.

And in retrospect it wasn’t a fad, it was forever.

That’s the power of the Beatles, that’s the power of songwriting, that’s the power of melody, that’s the power of music.

You’d think you’d heard it all. Paul acknowledged that John took the line “I know what it’s like to be dead” from Peter Fonda.

But the facts were not the nuggets, rather it was the aforementioned stories. Just like you and me, only we all think we know Paul, we’re all interested.

This life, it’s so crazy, the older you get the less you know, we look for touchstones and beacons.

Paul McCartney’s music is certainly a touchstone.

But the funny thing is he’s also a beacon. He’s keepin’ on, refusing to stay still. Enjoying being in the band on the run, cracking jokes with his compatriots as they do a runner from the gig.

The songs are bigger than the man.

But the man survives.

Hopefully we will too.

P.S. I didn’t need to talk to him, I didn’t need a picture, he doesn’t need to know me, but Scott Rodger insisted we talk. And I know not to fawn, that gets no respect. So I talked to him about his ski day at Bromley a couple of years back, told him that’s where I grew up skiing. He said the snow was perfect! And that _______ lives nearby, and maybe I’ll run into him.

P.P.S. And I told him I wanted to hear “Big Barn Bed” in concert. Sure, it’s obscure, forgotten, but it’s also a favorite. He said there was a recording from the seventies he’d send me. As for “Letting Go,” they used to do it, I told him it was one of my favorites.