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Witness the Spirit of '76: Peter Frampton Comes Alive Again, 43 Years Later

Photo: Michael Bialas

Peter Frampton is making sure fans of yesteryear won't forget him with a new All Blues album and the Farewell Tour, which included a Red Rocks stop that proved he's saving his best for last.

All Blues
Peter Frampton Band

7 June 2019

For the first time in 43 years, I saw Peter Frampton perform again.

Shame on me for waiting that long.

It took a headlining tour stop at Colorado's Red Rocks Amphiteatre and his diagnosis of a possible career-ending disease to come to the realization that after 31 July 2019, I may never see the British pop-rocketman/guitarist extraordinaire sing those anthemic tunes and play those slick, pristine licks that made him famous.

Hopefully, Frampton, 69, can extend his life and continue making music for many years, but he's calling this 2019 nationwide series of stops The Farewell Tour for a reason. He plans to retire from road tripping regularly after this one is done.

Perhaps, Frampton is saving his best for last. The 140-minute show west of Denver was as majestic and legendary as the grand geological setting, despite lightning and torrential rain that delayed the night's proceedings for an hour and continued to pose a threat with intermittent returns. Ever the affable and entertaining showman, Frampton shared his heart, soul, and sense of humor with his faithful, aging followers, who were in the majority at a sold-out house that did include a few carefree youths.

Minutes before his set began, a pre-recorded announcement from Frampton blasted through the speakers, warmly greeting his fans while setting some ground rules that encouraged smartphone pictures to be taken — but only during the first three songs. "There's no need to text anyone during the show," he concluded. "I've already called your babysitter and told her that you'll be late tonight. So please turn your phone off. Enjoy the show in the moment, live here with me tonight."

Following a rain-shortened but energizing and electrifying Led Zeppelin Evening by Jason Bonham and his Whole Lotta Lovable band, the late Aretha Franklin's version of "Rock Steady" serenaded the crowd. Then with a fast-paced, big-screen montage of the one-time whiz kid's career, Frampton and his four-piece backing band — Rob Arthur (keys, guitar), Adam Lester (guitar), Dan Wojciechowski (drums) and recent addition Steve Mackey (bass) — emerged.

The opener, "Baby (Somethin's Happening)", along with early numbers like "The Lodger" (on 1972's Wind of Change, his solo debut) and "Lines on My Face" (from 1973's Frampton's Camel) brought all of us old enough to remember back to the time before the Guitar Hero became an international sensation with Frampton Comes Alive! in 1976.

Of course, Frampton was already a seasoned pro, establishing himself with the Herd at age 16 before becoming one of the founding fathers of Humble Pie with Steve Marriott. But I recall first seeing a frustrated Frampton open for Southern fixture Black Oak Arkansas, led by lead-singing Neanderthal Jim "Dandy" Mangrum, in April 1973 ($5 admission) at the Warehouse, a bedraggled but beloved, sweat-soaked, stick-to-the-floor venue down by the Mississippi River in New Orleans.

There with my future wife Carmen and my older brother John, we arrived in time to hear part of the soundcheck with his band, also called Frampton's Camel. Then during an abbreviated set, we looked on in amazement as he roughed up and slammed down his malfunctioning keyboard. In our minds, though, his fiery passion and powerful performance quickly won us over, even if a couple of hecklers wanted to see Jim "Dandy" come to the rescue.

Despite some of his sappy love songs and mellow-fellow rock, we became Frampton fanatics who witnessed rave-on potential when he took his "Jumping Jack Flash" cover from Wind of Change to breathtaking heights in concert. All four of his initial studio albums were purchased, including 1974's Somethin's Happening on eight-track and 1975's Frampton.

Marshall Amp by tookapic (Pixabay License / Pixabay)

Photo: Michael Bialas

Returning to see Frampton in New Orleans on a semi-regular basis, Carmen and I even brought a pot-smoking couple we befriended in high school to a City Park event called the Bayou Boogie Festival '75. Playing on a sweltering July afternoon, Frampton was listed lower on a bill that later featured the J. Geils Band and — you guessed it — headliner Black Oak Arkansas.

The teen idol with the unbuttoned shirt slowly began to progress from supporting act to headliner to "overnight sensation" in what we thought might be our Warehouse grand finale. Sitting through Gary "Dream Weaver" Wright advanced to standing up and cheering for the man becoming a bona fide superstar right before our eyes. It was March 1976, just two months after the release of Frampton Comes Alive!, a record that closed with a 14-minute version of the talk box-driven "Do You Feel Like We Do" (the substantially shorter studio original was introduced on Frampton's Camel) and inexplicably sold a million copies in the first week of its release.

By then, though, our lives were changing, and so was his. The double-live album made Frampton a cultural phenomenon who was playing far more stadium shows than cramped quarters like the Warehouse. Worshipped as the newest pop-rock Golden Guitar God, he appeared on the cover of the Rolling Stone, which hailed him as the "Pretty Power Rocker" during "The Year of the Face".

Meanwhile, the loyal and true-blue diehards who had witnessed the birth of Peter Solo were left to share his excess success with the late-to-the-partygoers. His feeble studio followup, 1977's I'm in You, and 1978 appearances in the NBC World War II drama series Baa Baa Black Sheep (starring Robert Conrad) and the God-awful Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band film with the Bee Gees, Steve Martin, Alice Cooper — and George Burns! —were jump-the-shark moments that told some of us it was quitting time.

Fame was the name of the game that became hard to watch. No more records, no more concerts, no more Frampton flirty hooks. Admittedly, I moved on, devoting my attention and admiration to other personal rock favorites like Eric Clapton, Todd Rundgren, Jimmy Page, Jerry Garcia, Pete Townshend, and Rory Gallagher, while later appreciating the talents of swinging axmen (and women), including Mark Knopfler, Brian May, the Bangles, Prince, Jack White, and St. Vincent.

My loss, I know. But we'll always have New Orleans. And there were occasional glimpses of Frampton that were still thrilling, especially as Reg, Humble Pie's card-playing road manager, in 2000's Almost Famous, one of my all-time favorite films.

Then, thankfully, Red Rocks came along for this one last ride, bringing a flood of fond memories with it. Hopefully, there are others like me who are welcomed back to his mainstream rock flock.

Seeing a smiling but somewhat fragile-looking Frampton perform exceedingly well while facing the odds — and the weather conditions — was incredibly inspirational and heartwarming as he covered a lot of ground in nearly two and a half hours.

Frampton broke out the talk box, the gimmicky contraption that he utilized to full effect on signature '70s hits like "Show Me the Way" (off '75's Frampton) and "Do You Feel Like We Do". He went back to Frampton for a sweet acoustic instrumental ("Penny for Your Thoughts") and more of his best — "(I'll Give You) Money" (a killer jam with Lester) and "Baby, I Love Your Way". The artist told wonderful stories that drew laughs, cheers ... and just crickets for the tale of the Woolworths horn-rimmed glasses he bought as a kid. He also impersonated Johnny Carson, Henry Winkler's Fonzie ("Aaayyyy!"), Rolling Stones of the past (Bill Wyman) and present (Charlie Watts). Frampton appreciated the qualities of a venue where, at 6,450 feet above sea level, high-flying spectators often enjoy more than the Mile High City views to the east.

"Something smells really good!" Frampton suddenly said less than an hour into his show to a cheering crowd. "I'm not gonna forget where I am in the song, am I? … It's starting to get to me. I'm starting to get the giggles." Some heartfelt tributes balanced the funny business to several "dear, departed friends" who influenced Frampton along the way.

They included the unheralded — drummer John Siomos and keyboardist Bob Mayo, two of his former band members. Also, Frampton mentioned the celebrated Ten Years After guitarist Alvin Lee, his party-down pal during a "lost two weeks" in the mid-'70s in the Bahamas. Meanwhile, he spoke of the troubled — Chris Cornell, the Soundgarden frontman who invited Frampton to sing on stage after hearing his instrumental version of "Black Hole Sun".

Frampton called that experience "one of the better moments of my career, and we became friends". Dedicating the performance of Cornell's song at Red Rocks (it has "more meaning for us now, obviously, now that we've lost him," he said) to the late singer-songwriter and his family, Frampton played a searing version while a massive photo of Cornell on the big screen towered over the band.

"Black Hole Sun" also turned out to give Frampton a career boost, at least in the eyes of the Recording Academy members who vote for the Grammy Awards. He enlisted Pearl Jam's Mike McCready and Matt Cameron to perform the song on 2006's all-instrumental Fingerprints, which earned Frampton his first two Grammy nominations and the award for best pop instrumental album in 2007.

Though his popularity had peaked before Frampton Comes Alive! went on to sell more than 8 million copies (he celebrated the release's 35th anniversary with a world tour in 2011 that featured most of his current touring band members), Frampton continued to make albums during the years when punk, new wave, grunge, country, Americana, and hip-hop took turns trying to steal the show.

Frampton knows where his roots and strengths lie, though. After playing 71 shows last year ("it's exhausting even saying it," he said), the singer-songwriter "felt this band was so ... we were cooking by the end; we were just so hot, musically; in tune, as it were." So after taking off a week or so, the group reunited in Frampton's Studio Phenix in Nashville, where they spent nine days recording an album of blues cover songs called All Blues that was released on 7 June. Since October, they've recorded four albums, Frampton said proudly.

He demonstrated his fingerpicking proficiency during a three-song segment from the album within the first hour that included "Georgia on My Mind", written by his mother's "favorite composer", Hoagy Carmichael. Frampton turned it into an instrumental because, after appreciating previous renditions by Ray Charles and Steve Winwood, he said, "I'm not gonna compete with those two."

The applause heard after performing "Same Old Blues" led Frampton to say, "Wow. This is fantastic! If you could be here, looking at you, you'd be amazed. Oh, yeah. Won't forget this one."

And there was still more than an hour to go. It wound down with a one-two punch of nostalgic glee — "Baby, I Love Your Way" and "Do You Feel Like We Do". The latter was a seven and a half-minute gem (even with a little too much talk-box talking) as Frampton took turns jamming with Lester, his "wingman on guitar", and keyboardist Arthur.

Before a two-song Humble Pie encore, Frampton finally addressed his battle with inclusion body myositis, a rare progressive disorder marked by muscle inflammation, weakness, and atrophy in the arms, hands, and legs.

Having played Red Rocks previously but apologizing this night for canceling a June 2015 show because of a virus that made his fluid voice sound more like a frog, Frampton said, "This has been something we've been looking forward to for so long. And I know you might, because of the nature of the tour, you probably know about my health situation. And I just feel this incredible, loving warmth that is coming from you; and I really, truly believe that this is my passion, what I'm doing right now with you guys; and I believe you are gonna cure me, I tell you."

Joyously shouting, "How about some Humble Pie!" Frampton continued to shine on, displaying his vitality, determination — and biting Brit wit — in the selection of his final song of the night: "I Don't Need No Doctor."

That indefatigable spirit of '76 lives on in 2019.

The Peter Frampton Myositis Research Fund at Johns Hopkins is a newly established fund by Frampton and Johns Hopkins, where he's being treated. During the Farewell Tour, $1 of every concert ticket sold will benefit the fund, and online donations are also accepted.

PETER FRAMPTON AT RED ROCKS SET LIST

31 July 2019

1. "Baby (Somethin's Happening)"
2. "Lying"
3. "Lines on My Face"
4. "Show Me the Way"
5. "The Lodger"
6. "Georgia on My Mind"
7. "Me and My Guitar"
8. "Same Old Blues"
9. "All I Want to Be (Is By Your Side)"
10. "Penny for Your Thoughts"
11. "Breaking All the Rules"
12. "Black Hole Sun"
13. "(I'll Give You) Money"
14. "Baby, I Love Your Way"
15. "Do You Feel Like We Do"

ENCORE
1. "Four Day Creep"
2. "I Don't Need No Doctor"

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