Peter Frampton, 62, is touring in celebration of his multi-platinum 1976 masterpiece, "Frampton Comes Alive!" The double-live album, which spent 10 weeks at number one on the Billboard charts, is still one of the best-selling live albums of all time. "Frampton Comes Alive 35!" tour publicity promised the original album performed in its entirety "plus highlights from the rest of his Grammy-winning career."
Over the course of nearly three hours, Frampton proved that he did, indeed, still have the chops. Though his long, curly locks have been replaced with a balding and grey head and he has, as the song says, "lines on my face," his soulful voice is still very much intact, and his guitar skills have only gotten stronger. Taking the stage to a standing ovation, Frampton stood, axe in hand as photographs of his younger self bled in and out on a large screen behind him while he launched into the opening notes of "Something's Happening."
Throughout the set, which covered "Frampton Comes Alive!" in its entirety as promised (but in a different order so as not to be too predictable), Frampton played several guitars including a very special one, he explained, that had been lost for nearly 35 years. The 1954 Gibson Les Paul, which had disappeared in the crash of a cargo plane carrying all of his band's instruments, was recently found on the Dutch Caribbean island of Curaçao and restored. As he shredded on the instrument, photographs of him playing it back in the day flashed across the screen.
The simplicity of the stage setup and the intimacy of the grandly-restored Peabody Opera House, which in its own 1970s heyday hosted acts including the Rolling Stones, the Grateful Dead, Neil Young, David Bowie, the Eagles, Billy Joel and Jeff Beck among others, gave the show a time-machine effect. Bantering easily with the audience he paused to pay respect to the venue, noting "We've played a lot of places on this 'Me Comes Alive' tour, but this is just a fantastic theater!"
Moving into "Lines on My Face," Frampton's passion poured through his voice and fingertips, building into an elegant crescendo that ended with an explosive yet seemingly effortless guitar solo. After crowd-pleaser "Show Me the Way," he teased, "Now we're on Side 2," and mused about the number of fans who have told him how many "seeds they've cleaned" on the double-album.
He strapped on an acoustic guitar for solo versions of "It's a Plain Shame," "Wind of Change" and "All I Wanna Be (Is By Your Side)." He then took a moment to "introduce" the other very special guitar -- one of only 25 made to celebrate Buddy Holly and given to him by Holly's wife Maria Elena. He explained that it was built to be just like the one Holly had written most of his great songs on, and even included one fret from his original guitar. He then graced the audience with a cover of Holly's "Peggy Sue."
Keyboardist Rob Arthur (who also took turns on vocals and acoustic guitar), had a chance to shine during hit single "Baby I Love Your Way." Further enhancing the '70s mood, the photo montage was replaced with an old-fashioned liquid light show for "(I'll Give You) Money," as Frampton faced off with guitarist Adam Lester in a crazy acid-rock jam.
Frampton's bluesy cover of the Rolling Stones' "Jumpin' Jack Flash" felt a bit lack-luster. He had fun playing with the voice effects during crowd-pleasing set-ender "Do You Feel Like We Do," as the screen flashed photos of fans posing with the album and posters of Frampton looking his Tiger Beat best, as well as a hilarious momentary shot of an animated Frampton on "The Simpsons."
Following a brief break, the band -- also featuring drummer Dan Wojciechowski and bassist Stanley Shelton, who has been with Frampton for more than 35 years -- reappeared for a second heavily-instrumental set. He started out with a couple tunes from his well-received 2010 album "Thank You Mr. Churchill," including "Asleep At the Wheel" and the politically-charged "Restraint." He then played a smattering of songs from his 2006 instrumental album "Fingerprints," starting with "Float and "Boot it Up" and also including his instrumental cover of Soundgarden's "Black Hole Sun."
Parts of this set got a little sleepy (there were more than a few people sleeping in the mostly older audience), but they brought it back around with Humble Pie song "Four Day Creep" (though I was secretly hoping for "Thirty Days in the Hole") and guitar-slaying "Off the Hook."
Frampton returned to the stage with the audience on its feet and ended the show with an incredible cover of the Beatles' "While My Guitar Gently Weeps," again proving that his talent has not diminished, and making me wonder why he's been overlooked for a Rock and Roll Hall of Fame nomination.
He may no longer be the young heartthrob, playing to stadiums of teenage fans, but Frampton can still command an audience, and his deft guitar skills are only matched by his wit and charm. Thirty-five years later, Peter Frampton is a still a class act.