Live Music: Hall and Oates at The Greek Theatre

October 28, 2014

by James M. DeFrances

Los Angeles, CA.  No introduction? No problem…Daryl Hall and John Oates commenced their show Sunday night at the Greek theater in Los Angeles after Mutlu, the opening act, without any prior announcement. As a matter of fact at 8:45 they were exactly 15 minutes ahead of schedule. So early that the audience, expecting a 9 p.m. start, was abruptly surprised when the intro from the 1982 number one mega-hit “Maneater” boomed over the sold out amphitheater’s PA system. The lights were quickly brought down and Los Angeles was set for an evening of memories, Hall and Oates style.

Hall & Oates and their band

Hall & Oates and their band

The duo’s 16 song set seemed to go by “in the blink of an eye” exclaimed the woman seated next to me. Daryl Hall did most of the monologue in between songs and mentioned how happy he was to be back in Los Angeles, to which the audience affectionately cooed. Outfitted in black leather jackets and mirrored lens sunglasses, the famed chart topping partners in crime stood side by side on matching carpets at the apron of the stage. On the menu this evening were some songs they “hadn’t done in a while” according to Hall. These rarities included tunes such as “Methods of Modern Love” and “Las Vegas Turnaround.” Concertgoers remained seated until “She’s Gone,” when the majority of the crowd rose to their feet to sing and dance along.

Daryl Hall

Daryl’s voice was clear and present and possessed a rugged “been there done that” quality. His phrasing differed from the studio recordings in a way that gave the lyrics a new perspective.

John Oates followed Hall’s lead vocals harmonizing effortlessly on every song. His voice sounded warm and rich as if it hadn’t aged a day. Throughout the show he maintained a quiet demeanor, smiling and waving to the audience but never directly speaking to them instead leaving those responsibilities to Hall.

John Oates

John Oates

The show was slightly marred by microphone feedback which was audible on more than one occasion. At its worst the squeaky feedback simultaneously matched a note played by a keyboard synthesizer which gave everyone at the venue a quick laugh. The band however proved to be able to outshine any of the minor quirks of the evening. The six musicians behind Daryl and John played exceptionally well and their solos were fresh and exciting. After a long jam session at the end of “I Can’t Go For That (No Can Do)” the band took a bow and left the stage.

But the audience wasn’t going anywhere, this much was certain. Just minutes later the duo and their band reappeared for the first of two encores and went on to play some of their biggest hits including “Rich Girl,” “You Make My Dreams,” “Kiss on My List” and finally ending the night with “Private Eyes.” Very attentive patrons would have also noticed that a pesky fan found her way onto the stage and made a beeline for John Oates during “Kiss on My List.” But all she managed to do was blow him a kiss before being escorted by security.

Hall & Oates

Hall & Oates

In the end, Daryl thanked the audience profusely for coming out and insisted that the fans “made it all possible.” He also mentioned his successful VH1/Palladia TV show “Live from Daryl’s House” and how that inspired him to open a new music venue called Daryl’s House in New York. The club is opening this weekend and Hall and Oates will christen it by playing the first show, which will be available on a free live stream on Yahoo music Friday night at 6. Although they are well into their 4th decade, Hall & Oates still seem to be in a world of limitless possibilities. They are two iconic musical pioneers who are still selling out large venues with ease. Sunday night’s show proved that their induction this year into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame was well deserved. They have staying power and the audience CAN go for that!

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Photos by Bonnie Perkinson. 


Live Music: Crosby, Stills and Nash at the Greek Theatre

October 6, 2014

By Don Heckman

They were back again Friday and Saturday at the Greek Theatre. The incomparable Crosby, Stills & Nash. And once again they delivered a performance that will surely be recalled by the enthusiastic full house crowd as one of their most memorable experiences.

One could have made the same claim for their prior appearance at the Greek, two years ago, which was equally stunning. Not surprising, of course, given the music that C,S&N have to offer.

Stills, Nash and Crosby

This is not, however, a band that repeats itself – the way many holdover acts from the ’70s, ’80s and ’90s do, presenting living jukebox renditions of their biggest hits. That’s not to say that C,S&N didn’t please the crowd’s appetite for material from the band’s songbook. But their hits, each of which shimmered with new musical facets, represented only one aspect of Friday night’s many musical pleasures.

The three hour program, including a twenty minute intermission, was liberally sprinkled with familiar C,S & N classics: “Carry On,” ”Southern Cross,” “Just A Song Before I Go,” “Delta,” “Deja Vu,” “Helplessly Hoping,” a climactic “Teach Your Children Well,” and a lot more.

David Crosby

David Crosby

When he wasn’t entertaining his listeners with his sardonic humor, David Crosby was applying his tactile vocal style to his atmospheric “Guinivere” and “Wooden Ships.”

Add to that Graham Nash’s irresistible love song, “Our House,” which immediately triggered warm hugging by seemingly every couple in the venue. And, in contrast, a rocking romp through Stephen Stills’ “Love the One You’re With,” which was quickly transformed into an audience singalong.

Stephen Stills

Stephen Stills

Further enhancing the program, Stills offered his unique interpretation of Bob Dylan’s “Girl From the North Country.” And a pair of new songs from Nash showed all the signs of eventually becoming new C,S&N classics. The first, “Here For You,” is an embracing love song. The second, “Burning For the Buddha,” is a stunning work, triggered by Nash’s response to the dozens of holy men in Tibet who have self-immolated since 2009 to protest China’s rule over areas of Tibet.

The program was delivered with collective and individual intensity, supported superbly by C,S&N’s back up band, which included Crosby’s son, keyboardist James Raymond.

Watching this seemingly non-stop flow of captivating music, I recalled the line that often was used in reference to James Brown, describing him as the “Hardest working man in show business,” and with good reason.

Graham Nash

Graham Nash

But in their Friday performance at the Greek, C,S&N were also worthy of the title during their more than 2 ½ hours on stage. Led by the dynamic presence of Graham Nash, who has clearly become the group’s spark plug, the trio’s performance was a non-stop whirlwind of activity.

Each member of the trio offered a characteristic number, some original, some not, displaying their stellar individual skills. In the ensemble vocal passages, they demonstrated their ability to produce the harmonically rich, tonally lush characteristics of their vocal togetherness.

And in the hard driving, rhythmically intense pieces, led by the soaring electric lead guitar of Stills, they reminded us of the rock roots that lie deep within the foundation of this superb trio of great pop artists.

In my review of C,S&N’s 2012 Greek Theatre appearance, I wrote that “the words of “Déjà Vu” remind us that ‘We have all been here before.’ Let’s hope that Crosby, Stills & Nash continue to be here again.”

And now, after hearing them again this year, let’s hope that we can continue to experience deja vu all over, and hear C,S&N again, and again.

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Photos by photo journalist Bonnie Perkinson.


Live Music: Charles Aznavour at the Greek Theatre

September 15, 2014

By Don Heckman

What is there to say about a 90 year old French singer/songwriter with the ability to mesmerize a packed house at the Greek Theatre? Not much that Charles Aznavour didn’t himself say at the Greek on Saturday night. Not just in his words, although there were plenty, in both French and English. What Aznavour had to say was based on musicality, lyricism, emotion and warmly intimate communication.

There may come a time when the vision of a nonagenarian singing a nearly two hour long program, strolling, sometimes dancing, across the stage, interacting humorously with his listeners and his musicians and winding up seeming as energetic as when he began, won’t be a rarity. But until that enlightened time, anyone who’s been fortunate enough to see and hear Aznavour in action – Saturday night at the Greek and elsewhere – will surely remember the experience as the rare and remarkable event that it was.

Sometimes described as France’s Sinatra, Aznavour performed with the kind of dynamism associated with Ol’ Blue Eye’s live performances. But Aznavour, who is also a brilliant songwriter, with a thousand or more songs to his credit, in four different languages had a more far ranging set of creative skills to offer.

Add to that his extraordinary ease on stage. At one point he paused in singing to address the age old question directed at songwriters – What came first, the words or the music? And on one song, he was joined in a delightful duet by one of his daughters.

The program of Aznavour originals ran the gamut of his grand catalog of works. Among them, such Aznavour classics as “Mon Ami, Mon Judas,” “La Boheme,” “She,” “Je Voyage,” his remarkably touching “Ave Maria,” one of his most-covered songs, “Yesterday, When I Was Young” and “What Makes A Man,” the song that triggered some of the most enthusiastic audience response of the evening.

But the central, most mesmerizing aspect of this memorable performance was the still potent quality of Aznavour’s captivating vocals. Soaring across octaves, from a rich baritone to penetrating head tones, he brought each phrase vividly to life, applying his stunning musicality to the story-telling enhancement of every song.

Rumors of Aznavour’s retirement were heard over the past year in Europe and the U.S. But he has repeatedly denied them. One can only hope that he will in fact return again to Los Angeles, and the many other cities on his usual itinerary before he actually does write finis to his incomparable performance career. Charles Aznavour is, has been and will always be one of a kind.

Photos by Bonnie Perkinson


Live Music: ZZ Top and Jeff Beck at the Greek Theatre

August 18, 2014

By Mike Finkelstein

Los Angeles, CA.  Cool is one of those qualities that, although hard to precisely define, we sure do recognize when we see it. On Wednesday night at the Greek Theatre, Jeff Beck and Billy Gibbons, two of the coolest guitar personalities to ever spank the plank, shared a double bill, and also found time to share the stage. These are two who have the cool  in their delivery and style. And as both approach 70 years old their continued prowess with their instruments is inspiring. For guitar enthusiasts this was must see live work and it satisfied mightily.

Jeff Beck

Jeff Beck

Jeff Beck went onstage shortly after sundown in a black vest, a wrapped scarf, and the same haircut we have known him with for nearly 50 years. The silhouette is very familiar. For years from the seventies on, his bands have featured him playing with one talented keyboardist or another (Max Middleton and Jan Hammer are notable alums). On Wednesday, there were no keyboards, instead he had a second guitar player, a dynamic young female bassist and a monster drummer… and for more than half of his set he had ex-Wet Willie vocalist and long time collaborator, Jimmy Hall, singing a batch of his more bluesy, guitar-and-vocals oriented tunes.

Beck’s set began instrumentally with “Loaded,” and the band stretched out nicely over a cover of “You Know You Know,” by the Mahavishnu Orchestra.  Bassist Rhonda Smith in particular, shined on this,serving up a contrasting mix of slapping and undulating bends.

Lately, no Jeff Beck show is without his instrumental version of the Beatles’ “A Day In The Life.” On Wednesday that tune was classic JB, with all the dynamics and nuance he is famous for injecting into his interpretations.  Much has been written over the years about his style and he truly stands alone in that nobody else does what he does and if they try to, we know where they got the ideas. It is his multitasking right hand that sets him apart. That right hand often does two or three things at once.  Whether he is tapping the strings, delicately nudging the vibrato arm, working the volume knob, or just ripping open a power chord it all takes a beautiful form. He hangs his hat on controlling chaos in his sound. It blows like a tornado and then stops and pivots on a dime.

Jimmy Hall

Jimmy Hall

Halfway through the set, Hall came onstage and they reached way back to the Truth album for “Morning Dew.” It’s a powerful song, whether sung by Rod Stewart (on Truth) or by Hall this time. And it’s a great example of how much more than the sum of the parts a vocal line and guitar line can elevate to. They also continued on to cover Jimi Hendrix’ “Little Wing,” and Sam Cooke’s “A Change is Gonna Come.”

But the direction of the evening was shown with last two selections of “Goin’ Down,” from Rough and Ready, and the British blues/rock staple, “Rollin’ and Tumblin’.” At the end of his set, his “Aw Shucks” grin and slouch said it all. But we would see Beck again, later in the evening.

ZZ Top came on next as the headliner, and put on a uniquely stylized rock ‘n’ roll show. The stage set had a distinctly automotive theme to it, from the red and green lights in the bass drums, to the truck smokestacks that supported the mike stands, and there were many projected slides of sparkplugs displayed like fine hors d’oeuvres.

One really can’t discuss ZZ Top without acknowledging the presence of the beards. Both bassist Dusty Hill and guitarist Billy Gibbons have beards down past their sternums and also wear black sunglasses, dark hats and similar but happily not identical black pants, coats and shoes. You could say they each look like a cross between Cousin It (Addam’s family) and the Fabulous Furry Freak Brothers…but can they ever play and dance. The way they carry themselves onstage is one of a kind. Together it’s magic, a comic combination of effortless, confident, and impressive. … and all of these are key strands of cool.

ZZ Top

ZZ Top

Both Gibbons and Hill are thinner than you might imagine, and light on their feet in a laid back way. Gibbons is pretty much gaunt, but he slides around stage with the same cool fluidity he exudes on guitar.  The two beards can still dance the choreographed steps they learned in the bars and roadhouses of Texas coming up through the ranks. Who knew the dancing and their style would get them noticed, big-time, on MTV in the 80’s? It does look cool, but it wouldn’t mean anything if it didn’t sound like ZZ Top.

For a three-piece band, ZZT puts out a lot of sound. They keep the riffs and the riff-support simple but it sounds tremendous. The bass and guitar are usually playing in unison to make the figure sound as big as possible. The drums were thunderous and on one of the toms there was a huge reverb trigger at work. But on top of it all is Billy Gibbons’ legendary guitar tone…and that’s what sets ZZ Top’s sound apart.

One has to hear Gibbons’ tone to appreciate it. On Wednesday he played a customized old gold top Les Paul. He often plays with a quarter or a peso instead of a guitar pick, and this enables him to put all sorts of overtones off the top of the string with the metal on metal contact. He also has his amps dialed in for huge but not overblown sustain, and very little dirt in his distortion. The end result is a tremendous, clean and bright, clear and soft, lead tone and a magnificently overdriven, but clean rhythm tone.

The band cruised through crowd favorites such as “Waitin’ for the Bus,” “Jesus Just Left Chicago,” “ Gimme All Your Lovin’,” and even covered Jimi Hendrix with an impressive rendition of “Foxy Lady.” But perhaps the most telling song was their cover of Muddy Waters’ “Catfish Blues.” There’s just something about the way ZZ Top plays blues that isn’t remotely like so many other bands that just rock the blues into a distorted and boring cliche. While they do turn it up, ZZ Top’s rhythm section takes a less is definitely more approach for the blues. And again, Gibbons’ guitar tone, just squeezing out the sparks and wheezes was phenomenal. They linked the elusive sparsely powerful intimacy of the old Chicago blues with the big oomph of power trio rock music…not so easy to do well.

ZZ Top’s encore was the big treat and the moment of anticipation- Jeff Beck and Billy Gibbons on the same stage.  Bring it on. It wasn’t so much a showdown as a chance for us to finally corral two of the more distinctive rock guitar stylists ever on one stage. Many guitar players who share a stage with Jeff Beck are in awe. Gibbons was simply playing with a peer, so there was no tension to break. Gibbons switched to a Fender Telecaster, so as not to overpower Beck’s Stratocaster.  They Played “La Grange,” and “Tush,” of course, but the coolest song had to be a cover of Tennessee Ernie Ford’s “Sixteen Tons.” Between Gibbons’ low, murmuring growls on the vocal, it was a fine showcase of the two styles and in the end the winner was the audience.

Cool is one of those qualities we tend to associate with youth but it’s really quite remarkable to see older folks retain it and wear it so effortlessly. Jeff Beck and Billy Gibbons are still two of the cooler cats you’ll ever see nearing seventy years old and playing killer guitar.

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To read more reviews and posts by Mike Finkelstein click HERE.

 


Live Music: Furthur, with Bob Weir and Phil Lesh, Celebrate the Music of the Grateful Dead at the Greek Theatre

October 7, 2013

By Mike Finkelstein

It’s rather phenomenal, the way the Grateful Dead tradition continues to thrive. On Saturday evening, Furthur, featuring two original G.D. smembers — rhythm guitarist Bob Weir and bassist Phil Lesh – hosted the second night of a sold out, jam-packed, three-night weekend stint in perfect evening weather at the Greek Theatre. Last year they did two nights at the Greek, this year they did three. So it seems that their popularity is increasing.

It was nothing short of a tribal gathering as the ceremony commenced in the parking lot with friends meeting, reconnecting, and sharing set lists in the familiar haze of weed, tie-dye and patchouli oil.

Further

Further

In the wake of lead guitarist and spiritual leader Jerry Garcia’s death more than 18 years ago, Furthur (Bob Weir/guitars,vocals, Phil Lesh/bass, John Kadlecik/guitar,vocals, Jeff Chimenti/keyboards, Joe Russon/drums, Sunshine Becker/backing vocals, Jeff Pehrson/backing vocals) is the most popular lineup to carry the G.D. torch. The name was cleverly lifted from the placard atop the psychedelic bus driven by Merry Prankster Neal Cassady during the legendary Acid Tests of the mid-1960’s. After all, the Grateful Dead were actually on that bus as the house band for the festivities.

The Furthur format is a proven winner: play lots of fan favorite Grateful Dead songs; throw in tasty covers; have guests who get the psychedelic mindset sit in(they will know the vibe and the tunes, and love playing them); change the set list each night, relax and jam. The tribe will certainly take care of the rest.

Further

Further

Many superb musicians started out as Dead fans themselves, and as they came up, they learned by listening to tapes, and going to the shows, to improvise in that style. This was a simple labor of love. From the beginning the band was very friendly and supportive to their listeners about everything audience-related. (In fact, this approach has served as a model for similar Dead-inspired bands like String Cheese Incident and Phish in building their lasting audience bonds.) The Dead always encouraged and enabled their fans to participate in taping their shows. It follows that there is a whole lot of live audio in circulation for people to learn from in depth. With Jerry Garcia dearly departed, there is essentially a giant hole in the surviving sound, right up there on stage, that can be filled by a baker’s dozen of very talented Dead fans from other bands.

Lead guitarist Jon Kadlecik’s route into Furthur is worth noting because he was recruited from his own renowned Dead tribute band, Dark Star Orchestra. If Bob Weir and Phil Lesh want you to. leave your tribute band to join them, of course you’ve gotta go for it. Kadlecik’s voice and guitar do sound hauntingly like Garcia ‘s and it’s not at all hard to see why they would want him in the lineup.

The Further Bus

The Further Bus

Saturday’s guests were guitarists Jonathon Wilson and Neil Casal, neither of whom are in tribute bands. Both are established in their own right, but are fans and totally get the G.D. vibe and the esthetic. They fit right in and Casal, in particular, sounded great singing over the band as though he, too, had always been there. He did a winsome job with “Scarlet Begonias” to start the second set and, later, a transcendent version of the Beatles’ “Across the Universe.”

Saturday’s show began with the usual noodling warm-up, out of which inevitably creeps a recognizable phrase from one or another G.D. tunes. Once the phrase surfaces, a ripple of recognition seems to spread across the crowd. Tonight the opening tune was “Feel Like A Stranger,” which was followed by an invigorated version of “Friend of the Devil.” By the time they were ready to launch into a crowd pleasing “Bertha,” special guest Jonathon Wilson had plugged in his Stratocaster and played lead guitar in the pocket between Bob Weir and John Kadlecik. He stayed on stage for three more tunes till the end of the first set and sounded like he was always part of the band. “New Speedway Boogie,” from Workingman’s Dead sounded particularly upbeat, powered by the three guitars and a fine vocal from Weir.

Phil Lesh and Bob Weir

Watching Bob Weir and Phil Lesh play the Furthur material does turn attention to the fact that both guys have a very unique approach to their instrument. There is a signature sound between the drums, bass and lead guitar that these two have always provided. It still sounds remarkably unique, yet completely familiar to Dead fans.

For any chord progression the band may be following, Weir rarely uses basic chords during the jam section. Instead, it’s all about setting up a rhythm guitar part that is as interesting yet unobtrusive as possible. He usually has several alternative chord routes through the song using inversions and playing off of the percussion. The general effect is to open up a rhythmically enticing space for the soloists to groove upon…and not step on anyone else’s musical feet in the process. What Weir does with the possibilities for rhythm guitar is art. And on Saturday, Weir even stepped up several times to play harmony leads with Kadlecik.

Phil Lesh has always been one of the more unorthodox sounding bass players in rock circles. His style is busy and bouncy, much like the motion of boiling water. It’s always fun to focus on his bass lines because he takes some odd angles. It often sounds like he’s experimenting as he goes and the tension draws us in. For this show, he looked positively jazzed as he ran up and down his six string bass. Two more strings means all the more possibilities for Phil to explore and he was certainly running with it.

Saturday night featured a savory version of “Terrapin Station,” nearly twenty minutes of structured, melodic jazz and progressive rock interplay. This is what the G.D. were up to in about 1977. The crowd dug it immensely and pieces of music like this one are what still drive the Grateful Dead mystique.

In the end, Furthur is the direct connection to the Grateful Dead tradition. Though Jerry Garcia is gone, Jon Kalecik maintained his place in the sound masterfully. Moreover, Weir and Lesh, two of the very unique elements that made up the band’s sound, remain as musically recognizable as ever. The whole thing works perhaps on a higher level than the Dead were on towards the end, but it isn’t completely the Dead. Still, the sound is revitalized. The tribe thrives and they are showing up.

That being said, Furthur will be on hiatus during 2014 and Lesh is 73 with a transplanted liver. So, catch ’em while you can.

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To read more reviews and posts by Mike Finkelstein click HERE.


Live Jazz: Diana Krall at the Greek Theatre

September 22, 2013

By Don Heckman

Los Angeles, CA. One of the great pleasures of reviewing music is the rare opportunity to observe the creative evolution of a gifted artist. It doesn’t happen often. But when it does, as it did at Diana Krall’s concert at the Greek Theatre Saturday night, it’s an experience to remember.

Diana’s Los Angeles concerts of the past few years have generally showcased her mastery of the classics in the Great American songbook, performed with backing ranging from the intimacy of her own quartets to the lush orchestral accompaniment of the Los Angeles Philharmonic. Each of those events displayed her growing creative maturity. Always a natural musical story teller, she brought a heightening level of interpretive magic to every song she touched, adding new perspectives to music long familiar as part of the soundtrack of American life.

Diana Krall

Diana Krall

On Saturday night at the Greek Theatre, however, she revealed an even more compelling desire to expand the potential of her art. She did so while still retaining her deep connections with many of the songs her dedicated audiences love to hear her sing and play. While also adding intriguing, early ’20s selections from her latest album, Glad Rag Doll.

And that was just one aspect of this memorable performance.

Start with the fact that virtually all the music was illuminated by huge video projections of vintage film clips, all selected by Krall. Among the many highlights in the non-stop images: Groucho Marx romancing Margaret Dumont; George Raft dancing elegantly with Carole Lombard; and dozens of others, embracing everything from classic cartoons to black and white masterpieces.

Diana has often referred to a Canadian childhood in which she was introduced by her parents to the music and films of the ’20s, `30s and ’40s. And her long program – delivered without a break, and with a four-song encore — honored that influence by her choices of music and film clips, while positioning one of her father’s old gramophones on the front of stage left, and including a segment in which she sang while playing an old upright piano.

Add to that a selection of repertoire that included such Songbook classics as “We Just Couldn’t say Goodbye,” “Let’s Face the Music and Dance,” “The Sunny Side of the Street,” “Just You, Just Me,” “Boulevard of Broken Dreams.” and more. While including tunes associated with Nat “King” Cole and Bing Crosby, and adding songs by Bob Dylan, Neil Young, The Band, and Tom Waits. All of it delivered by Krall with convincing understanding of each of the song’s musical stories.

Diana Krall and her Band

Diana Krall and her Band

Krall was backed in her artistically ambitious endeavors by a superb group – guitarist Aram Bajakian, bassist Dennis Crouch, ukulele player Stuart Duncan, drummer Karriem Riggins and keyboardist Patrick Warren. Well-tuned to the eclectic styles her program demanded – hard swinging jazz, simmering rock and intimate balladry – they were the perfect choice to support her musical goals.

But the most fascinating subtext of the evening was the emergence of Diana Krall as a mature, evolved performer whose growing artistry has become balanced by equally magnetic skills as a communicator and an entertainer. It’s a rare combination, and Krall now expresses those skills with a convincing believability that firmly places her in the rarified group of Olympian artists she honored in her mesmerizing evening of music and visuals.

Photos by Faith Frenz.


Live Music: Peter Frampton’s Guitar Circus at the Greek Theatre

September 8, 2013

By Mike Finkelstein

Sometimes life can be so poetic. In 1980, as Peter Frampton’s career was at a low ebb, he lost his most prized possession. He lost his Les Paul black beauty. This was his main axe and a huge, iconic part of his musical identity. It’s the one he played on Humble Pie’s Rockin’ the Fillmore and on Frampton Comes Alive. The guitar wasn’t stolen from him. It actually went down off the coast of Venezuela in a fiery airplane crash. The pilot died and the plane sank with all of Frampton’s gear including his prized and simply one of kind Les Paul black beauty.

Well, apparently the guitar was rescued quickly and was actually played by a local musician in Curacao for decades, with no idea of the instrument’s history. A local guitar repairman there, with the help of a Dutch Frampton fan helped get the ax back to Pete in 2011. Now at age 62, Frampton’s career and his guitar playing have been on a wonderfully climbing arc since that time. He actually played the black Les Paul in all of its battered, matted glory in late August, when he brought his Guitar Circus into the Greek Theatre before a full house.

And what about this Guitar Circus? The Guitar Circus format calls for different well known artists in each city to come onstage and play with Pete and his band. It’s a return to featured jamming and it’s quite entertaining. While the bill also features BB King and Sonny Landreth, there is nightly anticipation about who will be PF’s guests onstage. This is because guests on previous nights have included talents as diverse as Roger McGuinn, Steve Cropper, Robert Cray, and Leslie West.

Frampton’s Greek Theatre set featured a sampling of his tunes from the ’70’s and 2000’s along with a tasty array of covers that served to showcase his enormous guitar prowess. His solo material has aged quite well. Songs like “Lines on My Face,” “I’ll Give you Money,” “ Show Me the Way ,” and “Do You Feel Like I Do,” were as familiar, vibrant and balanced as ever. He can go from an appealingly light pop song such as “Baby I Love Your Way,” to a cover of a crunching alternative metal tune like “Black Hole Sun,” by Soundgarden,…and they both sound as though they belong to be heard back to back. Crossing genres and eras is something that Frampton has mastered. The songs sound fresh and vibrant in his hands.

In terms of guitar playing, it’s not that Frampton plays blindingly fast, though at times at the Greek he most certainly did. It’s his tone, which is basically second to none. He lives in the sweet spot of every guitar sound he uses. His tone is a pure, clean, mid range. It’s bright but not shrill, cool and airy but fat too, when he wants it to be.

To watch Frampton and his band (Dan Wojciechowski-Drums, Rob Arthur- keys, guitar, harmony vocals , Adam Lester- Guitar, and Stanley Sheldon – bass) lay it down is to watch a clinic on letting dynamics and strategic restraint do great work for you. Another thing was obvious too, that it never hurts the effort to be heard when you have a Fender Rhodes keyboard in the mix.

Frampton and co. always found the open space for the guitar’s purest tones to shine in. But the bottom line is that he can just flat out rip it up on guitar. Having a band that sets the table so well is icing on the cake. He looked so satisfied plunging into song after song and laying down each line, obviously knowing how sweet it would sound. Remarkable.

The first guest of the night was Dean De Leo of Stone Temple Pilots. He came on and led the band through “Interstate Love Affair,” and “Vaseline,” doing all the solos himself and with Peter’s son Julian doing the singing. Frampton and the guys clearly enjoyed a chance to back someone else and step outside of themselves for a bit.

Next on was no less than Andy Summers of the Police carrying his familiar red Stratocaster. He piloted the band through “Message in a Bottle” as rhythm guitarist Adam Lester did a fine job delivering the Sting vocals. Summers played his rear end off on this tune, much more vigorously than with the Police. Brilliant! Next, they did a jam on “Synchronicity I” where Pete and Andy exchanged composed yet frenzied leads. No doubt about it, Andy Summers came to play.

The encore turned out to be a great version of the Beatles’ “While My Guitar Gently Weeps.” Frampton, DeLeo (through a wah wah pedal), and Summers all took solos in a heavy but clear send up for the evening.

BB King was second billed and at the age of 87 rapidly approaching 88 next month he did do a lot of sitting and kibitzing onstage like a lovable grandpa. He did not tickle his black Gibson semi-hollow body, Lucille that often … but she did have a lot of sustain behind her. Towards the end of the set, Frampton came out, sat down next to BB and while listening to the stories, grinning ear to ear, snuck in a devastating run or two or three.

At his age BB has earned the right to play a little less. He sounded good when he did play but he did far more talking. He even looked downright impressed as he looked across and checked out PF laying down the blues over his band.

Sonny Landreth and his trio from New Orleans got the evening going with a short set before the sun went down. He plays in a uniquely arpeggiated style, combining slide guitar and fretted leads. It seemed that it shouldn’t sound that intricate when his fingers actually didn’t look the least bit busy. His right hand is a big part of this sound. He often passes on a plectrum and attacks the strings with his fingers extended much like a bassist.

All in all this was an extraordinary night of music at the Greek. To see Frampton making that same battle-scarred black Les Paul sing again looked and sounded like destiny. I hope there is more to come.

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To read more reviews and posts by Mike Finkelstein click HERE.


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