[30 September 2003]
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If British journeyman guitarist/singer Peter Frampton’s commercial apex was a 1976 live album, one would assume that seeing Frampton on stage might represent the ultimate milestone connection between artist and fan. In fact, that 1976 live album—Frampton Comes Alive—was the old record that popped into the heads of fans when Frampton broke out all his hit singles at the House of Blues in New Orleans Sunday night. Think about that for a second. Peter Frampton may be the only artist in rock history whose songs are known by fans from a live album. I’m sure the majority of fans in the club that night could not name the actual studio albums—by Frampton’s Camel—from which “Show Me the Way”, “Baby, I Love Your Way” and “Do You Feel Like We Do” originally came. It’s O.K. That’s nothing more than an interesting factoid about Frampton, not necessarily a criticism. I can’t name them either. But classic rock radio has made sure we all know the songs. And all of them were played at the House of Blues Sunday night.
Frampton and his band—keyboardist/guitarist Bob Mayo, drummer Chad Cromwell and bassist John Regan—started out the night with the first song on Frampton’s most recent CD, Now. “Verge of a Thing” is a solid rocker that showcases both Frampton’s guitar-playing prowess and his penchant for pop-rock light vocals. After that, the band launched into an ‘80s hit single—“Lying” from Frampton’s criminally underrated 1986 record, Premonition. But that’s when Frampton’s classic rock sheen started to get buffed up a bit.
Like or it not, “Lying” was a sign of the times when it was released in the ‘80s. The recorded song was powered by a driving synth bass and thick and electric synth chords from session keyboardist Richard Cottle. But the live version only featured Mayo’s minor sounding electric piano via a Korg keyboard. The sound was weak. “Lying” also suffered from Frampton either skipping lyrics altogether or being out of breath to sing all of them. There were vocal gaps in the song that made it all sound forced and uncomfortable.
But again, the fans did show up to hear “Lying”. They showed up to hear the classics, which is exactly what Frampton switched to for the third song. First, Frampton played beautiful and tastefully jazzy lines on his trademark black Gibson Les Paul. The fans in the crowd lit up as Mayo’s electric piano followed for the mesmerizing introduction to “Lines on My Face”. One of four hit singles from Frampton’s Frampton Comes Alive, “Lines on My Face” is a true Frampton classic that deserves the attention it gets from fans.
Frampton slipped in some other new songs from Now—a truly great album and one of Frampton’s strongest since the late ‘70s—including “Love Stands Alone”, which showed off Frampton’s intense guitar soloing near the end of the song. Frampton’s guitar playing is never show-offy like a Joe Satriani or Steve Vai. It’s more of a slow burning flash—like Neil Young’s slashing away on his own black Gibson Les Paul. In fact, the only thing that bothered me about Frampton’s playing on this song was that, while soloing, he was facing to his right—toward bassist Regan—instead of facing the audience. He did the same thing during the ending solo of “Lying”. Sorry Peter, but I want to see you playing your instrument. It’s a wonder to see, if you get a chance.
By the time Frampton got to “Show Me the Way” and “Baby, I Love Your Way”, the crowd was practically doing all the singing for Frampton. The versions were letter-perfect, as if someone were blasting an FM classic rock radio station from the back of the club.
But by the time Frampton started blowing into the tube attached to his microphone—a device known as the “guitar talk box”—Frampton’s radio friendly histrionics started to get a little tiring. The song and playing was energetic but Frampton squawked a little too much on the talk box, dragging out the effect and even calling it—only half jokingly—“a cheap effect.”
Still, the 12-song, hour and forty minute show was fun and I finally had a chance to see Frampton do what he does best: play the guitar.In the end, that’s what Frampton should be remembered for.