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

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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