By Mike Finkelstein
In 1976, at the peak of his popularity, Peter Frampton once mentioned that, “There is no tomorrow until I play today.” On Saturday night at the Greek Theater Peter Frampton played for three hours, putting the music at a premium, in one of the more memorable performances one could hope to get a glimpse of. I would doubt that many people who came to this show expected it to include three hours of music. You just got the feeling that Frampton felt so good about the band and about playing in general that for this type of tour he would play the whole night without an opening act.
The show consisted of two sets, with the first being a play-through (not in album sequence) of the entire Frampton Comes Alive album (2011 marks the 35th anniversary of the release of Frampton Comes Alive), and the secnd set focusing on newer material and chestnuts from his past. He was in the zone every minute of the way, on all levels and he and his band could have gone on longer..
Prior to FCA, live albums, especially double live albums were mostly a courtesy from already successful bands to their fans documenting their live sound. When Frampton was with Humble Pie, they recorded the classic double live album Rockin’ the Fillmore. Humble Pie live were truly the stuff of legend and the album was a commercial breakthrough in the lucrative US market, but Frampton left the band to go solo before it was released on 1971. By 1975, Peter Frampton’s solo career was languishing, his records were not selling so well and he was running out of money to keep his band together and on tour. However, his live shows were always well received for his appealing musical vibe and, yes, his good looks.
So, the obvious and most sincere thing to do was to record a live album. It was recorded (mostly) in San Francisco where he had a great relationship with his audience. On FCA, one can hear the immediacy between the audience and the band captured in the sounds of the audience mixed cleverly with the music. The album offered a bounty of different styles, atmosphere and the sheer delight of getting off playing great music. It went on to be the best selling album of 1976 and introduced him to many more new fans. For several years after this, every other band on the circuit seemed to be releasing a double live album, trying to catch the same magic. To say the least, 1976 was a huge year for PF.
On Saturday, 35 years later, Frampton was still thin, much of his celebrated golden hair was gone or gray, and he had maintained his tenor voice and his self-effacing charm and wit. He and his cohorts picked right up like it was still 1976. Happily, Stanley Sheldon, the original bassist on the album was right there next to PF for this show (both original keyboardist/guitarist Bob Mayo and drummer John Siomos have passed on). Starting a little before sunset, and holding his black Les Paul, Frampton launched the band into the first track of FCA, “Something’s Happening.” As on the album the band’s sound gave the music a lot of space to develop. In particular, the drums featured a lot of subdued but busy cymbal work, suggesting strummed acoustic guitars. Loud snare and tom work were kept to a noticeable minimum and the light approach allowed us to really listen clearly to the other instruments.
During the 70’s the Fender Rhodes was a popular choice of keyboards for it’s warmth and clarity and it was always a part of the signature PF sound – which is why keyboardist/guitarist Rob Arthur played one for most of the show. He also moved between a Hammond organ and playing guitar. Serendipitously, Saturday’s crowd sounded a lot like the one on the record. There was very little of the hooting that rock concerts often seem burdened with. People did know the words and pockets of fans would sing along quite audibly, on cue and even with the beat.
Several things set a group of songs like those on FCA apart from a lot of other rock music. The tunes, particularly the showcase song of the album, “Do You Feel Like We Do,” call for continually building tensions up chordally, rhythmically, and dynamically and then ripping each one of them loose in a dynamic wash of sound-not unlike unveiling a sculpture or watching a wave break. And, of course, featuring the talk box guitar effect has given the song a more timeless than dated appeal because it still sounds cool. That song will always be FM rock in its most iconic form.
The FCA program also called for covering “Jumping Jack Flash” by the Rolling Stones. Frampton’s arrangement stayed true to the riff to begin with, but basically turned the song delightfully inside out. They reshaped the riff often throughout the song, added syncopation to still other parts, and even inserted their own atmospheric turnarounds to transform the song into something new. By his arrangement the song walked with an inviting new gait. The two huge hits “Show Me the Way” and “Baby I Love Your Way” got the ladies into the summer sway. For a while it looked like the summer of 1976.
Whether he took a distorted or clean solo, Frampton’s guitar was always in the front of the mix, never obscuring the qualities of what he was playing over. It takes considerable preparation and a lot of gear to sound this versatile while turning on a dime. He had a small, clean-sounding Fender amp, a rotating Leslie speaker, a full pedal board of effects, several blistering Marshall heads to the side of the stage and it all fed through three Marshall cabinets on stage. No matter what tone he was actually using, his sound always came across with smooth clarity. His lines were at once jazzy and clean, then scorching and swirling. He had such an appealing palate of tones and such an interesting approach to his note selection, that he had the audience…quietly eating out of his hand because they were listening to the man own the moment.
In the second set, having met their big pop obligation, Frampton and the band could really get down to the business of playing. Most of the hour and fifteen minutes was spent on instrumental tunes culled from the Fingerprints and Thank You Mr. Churchill albums. During this set the band and particularly Frampton covered a whole lot of musical ground, schooled the musicians in the audience, and thoroughly entertained everyone else. Bopping, grooving and remaining precisely on the delicate pulse of the music he made each chord, each phrase, and each note count several times over. Drummer Dan Wojciechowski, who had to play with considerable restraint in the first set, was set loose in the second set and he did indeed pop and crack his drums louder and more often.
There were super sweet harmonic moments shared with guitarist Adam Lester on “Float” from the Grammy winning Fingerprint album as well as a jazzy Django-infused reworking of“All I want To Be (Is By Your Side).” He delved into obscure tracks like “White Sugar” and “Just The Time of Year” from Frampton’s Camel and even broke out a fine rendition of Humble Pie’s raucous take on Muddy Waters’ “Four Day Creep.” Then he closed the show with a talk-box instrumental treatment of Soundgarden’s “Black Hole Sun.”
In a time when many guys a little younger than his 61 years are pretty much mailing in the hits when they tour, Peter Frampton gave an inspired performance on Saturday. And really, how many of his peers would even consider attempting to maintain that kind of stamina for one night much less a whole tour? The word “outstanding” certainly describes Frampton himself and Saturday’s show. Wow!
To see more reviews by Mike Finkelstein click HERE.