The Scene: Hundreds of baby-boomers crowded the landmark Paramount Theatre on Tuesday night for a trip back to a different time. The show was a celebration of the 35th anniversary of Peter Frampton’s “Frampton Comes Alive!,” the best selling record of 1976 and still one of the best selling live records to date. Couples who likely hadn’t given the double LP a spin in a decade or two packed the historic theater and were entertained by a big screen on stage playing a slideshow of black and white and sepia tone images of their huge-haired icon. The recorded voice of William Shatner cracked a few jokes and announced a five-minute warning, but the majority of the crowd had already beaten him to their seats, ready to revisit a piece of Rock ‘n Roll history.
Peter Frampton: Frampton took to the stage in front of a loud crowd and joked he would be playing what he calls “I Come Alive!” then broke into “Something’s Happening” which was accompanied by the strong aroma of weed smoke. I guess some habits are hard to break for these Golden Boomers.
Frampton played his tattered black guitar with the same fantastic attack and passion as on the 1976 album. The guitar, the iconic custom Les Paul pictured on the cover of ‘..Comes Alive,” hasn’t faired as well as the youthful Frampton, and Frampton shared the reason when he touched on how the guitar was involved in a fatal crash of cargo plane during a South American tour in 1980. The Les Paul was presumed lost until a guitar collector in Curaçao spotted it and negotiated its return earlier this year [Editor’s Note: learn more here]. Not only was his guitar playing just as excellent as on the album, his aged vocal chords have definitely stood-up to the wear and tear of time as well. His smooth tenor voice was pitch perfect. After the first few tracks from the album, Frampton strapped on his acoustic guitar and began playing “Take Me Away” to a surprisingly huge response from the crowd. This was followed by another acoustic number, “Penny For Your Thoughts,” during which every pull-off was met with loud cheers from the audience.
At this point, the large screen which had continued to play black and white tour photos and pictures of fans with the album switched to a movie of candles flickering as he began to play “All I Want to Be (Is By Your Side)” and during the chorus Frampton cut out and invited the audience to sing it for him. As I looked around the audience there were hundreds of cell phone held aloft as their owners desperately tried to record videos. Sadly, if the crowd was as technologically inclined as my baby-boomer dad, they may have been having more than a bit of trouble. After the piece Frampton said “there are plenty versions of this on YouTube,” and asked patrons to put their phones away and enjoy the show. To my surprise, they listened.
While Peter was literally in the spotlight for a majority of the show, bathed in the light from two follow-spots, he was backed by a very talented foursome who worked in the shadows. Sadly, due to the fact that Bob Mayo and John Siomos passed away in 2004, this group only included one of the original musicians who played with him on Frampton Comes Alive!, Stanley Sheldon on bass.
The highlight of the show came at the end of the …Comes Alive set in the form of the hit “Do You Feel Like We Do.” The words of the chorus flashed in large letters on the screen as though the now standing crowed needed any help singing along. Frampton went back and forth in a call and response manner for a show stopping jam with keyboardist Rob Arthur. Both musicians dazzled the crowd with the playful and virtuosic give and take. Arthur rapidly hammered the keys during an extended solo that followed. It was like no key performance I’ve seen. As the jam slowed tempo, tensions built for Frampton’s trademark Talk Box solo. The cartoon image of Frampton flashed on the screen as he stepped up to a mic equipped with a rubber tube and the crowd ate up every riff. His perfectly shredded runs up and down the neck took on the personality of a sweet talking robot trying to unhook your bra at the drive-in. The crowd couldn’t help but smile as Peter vocalized several licks including the words “do you feel, like I do?”
After “Do You Feel Like We Do” was met with a thunderous standing ovation, Frampton and company left the stage for a short break as some adjustments were made on stage. They returned to play pieces from some of Frampton’s more recent albums. The second set was more foreign to me and seemed as though Frampton’s melodies came screaming from his guitar with a bit more bite than the earlier songs. The band rocked with Van Halen-like fervor, and vocals were absent from most of the pieces. The highlight of the second set for me was an instrumental cover of Soundgarden’s 1994 hit “Black Hole Sun.” Much to my satisfaction Peter sent the crowd into a frenzy with the Talk Box once more during the song. The night concluded with an encore of a beautiful take on George Harrison’s “While My Guitar Gently Weeps.”
While I may have occupied a much different demographic than the majority of the attendees, I thoroughly enjoyed the show. Not only can the man still play, he can shred.
It was far past their normal bed times when the fans poured out of the theatre and while I imagine they left with a few more warm memories to the soundtrack of Peter Frampton, I left with a renewed respect and love for this rock legend.
Stage Presence: B+
Set/Light show: B+