Peter Frampton’s Spirited Farewell

IMG_0974Peter Frampton supercharged his career with a live album decades ago, so he’s going out playing live as well.

In a stop at the Anthem in D.C. Wednesday, he seemed to have the kind of bouncy energy and joy in performance that doesn’t usually come on anything titled “Finale – The Farewell Tour.”

Frampton at 69 looks pretty youthful to hang it up, but is doing so because of the diagnosis of a rare disease called inclusion body myositis, a progressive muscle disorder. None of that kept him from leaping about and playing scorching guitar solos that veered from rock to jazz.

He began with an unusual request: that people photograph or video the first three songs only — the same kind of restrictions kept to professionals, so they could turn off their phones and be more present for the show.

A noble effort, but when he whipped out the first of the hits from his breakthrough “Frampton Comes Alive!” as his fourth song, the rule was widely ignored.

Frampton is nothing if not a team player, showcasing the rest of his five-piece band by standing stage left, not in front of anyone. But “Show Me the Way” brought him center stage where the specially equipped rubber tube can bend his guitar notes through his vocals, which he used to such effect on the 1976 album.

The cheesy nostalgia of a Talk Box became just as emblematic of mid-70s rock as the cherubic hair Frampton once wore. What became the hits of the live album were songs originated but largely ignored on the earlier solo albums from the former Humble Pie guitarist. The effervescent live versions made him an 8-million selling superstar that was exploited in all of the worst ways, from bare-chested magazine covers to starring in the awful 1978 movie version of “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Heart’s Club Band.”

He kept touring and recording with diminishing commercial returns, but found his artistic footing playing guitar for David Bowie’s 1987 Glass Spider Tour and recording a Grammy-winning instrumental album “Fingerprints” in 2006.

One may come to a Frampton show expecting cheese — and yes, the other two hits from “Frampton Comes Alive!” ended the main set: “Baby, I Love Your Way” and the snaky, Talk Box heavy “Do You Feel Like We Do.” But the pleasant surprise was a wide-ranging show marked by the depth of his catalog and the grace and skill with which it was presented.

More halting in his comments to the audience than one would expect after all these years, Frampton said he tried to create a setlist that hit on all points of his career, and he was clearly nostalgic about past bands he played with, showing their pictures on the large screen above him during some songs, particularly his keyboardist and guitarist Bob Mayo, who died at 52 of a heart attack while on tour with him in 2004.

Frampton was so nostalgic for the green-trimmed set of drums he once bought for the “Comes Alive!” era drummer John Siomos, he bought them a second time from a collector on eBay so his current drummer Dan Wojciechowski could use them. (Siomos had died the same year as Mayo, also relatively young, at 56).

But he was also proud of his current touring band, giving guitarist Adam Lester and keyboardist Rob Arthur spotlights in the encore by letting them take lead vocals on a couple of tunes tunes Steve Marriott sang in Humble Pie.

The current Peter Frampton Band, as he has dubbed it, recently convened for that musically satisfying, late-career indulgence of an all-blues album, that had also been done previously this decade by Eric Clapton and the Rolling Stones. Their subsequent “All Blues” is enjoying its 13th week topping the Billboard blues chart.

From it, they played a trio of songs, two from Freddie King, “Same Old Blues” and the appropriate “Me and My Guitar” and an instrumental version of the standard “Georgia (On My Mind).”

It was in the style of the winning instrumentals on Fingerprints, from which he played a stinging “Black Hole Sun” in memory of Soundgarden’s Chris Cornell, whose image appeared at the end of the song, and, to end the long show, the Beatles’ “While My Guitar Gently Weeps,” an arena previously defined  by George Harrison, Clapton and later Prince.

To introduce it, Frampton didn’t talk about his illness or his farewell, but rather the day’s anniversary of 9/11, an event so personally shattering to him the Brit reacted by immediately seeking American citizenship. He did say that the crowd’s enthusiasm and encouragement throughout  show made him feel like it could heal him. With any luck that it can put the premature retirement talk on hold.

For pure cheese, there was the opening set by what’s now called Jason Bonham’s Led Zeppelin Evening. The name was changed last year from Jason Bonham’s Led Zeppelin Experience to allow for the survivors to reunite for their 50th (though they didn’t). Bonham had already bought the expensive JBLZE backdrop, so he wanted to keep it in the E family (but didn’t choose to go with, say, Extension, Elephant or Etc.).

Anyway, it was an early Evening for the band, who are about the best Led Zep tribute band this side of Greta Van Fleet. And while this one carries Bonham’s DNA and three-ring logo, vocalist James Dylan isn’t quite there with the impossible power and high notes of Robert Plant; guitarist Jimmy Sakurai (who has his own L.A. tribute band Mr. Jimmy) doesn’t quite have the tone or timing of his idol Jimmy Page. Yet they tried to get through the greatest hits rock block that sounded somehow cornier in their hands.

Bonham paused to note 9/11 as well, introducing the inevitable finale of “Stairway to Heaven.” Not sure what a song about pipers, a song bird and a May queen have to do with international terrorism, though maybe he was thinking of the line “In my thoughts I have seen rings of smoke through the trees, and the voices of those who stand looking.” Makes me wonder.

As drummer and bandleader, Bonham had been loudly featured in the mix the whole set, but had little to do for half of  “Stairway,” which has no drums until the bustle gets in your hedgerow.

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Peter Frampton’s setlist Thursday was: 

  • “Baby (Somethin’s Happening)”
  • “Lying”
  • “Lines on My Face”
  • “Show Me the Way”
  • “Fig Tree Bay”
  • “Georgia (On My Mind)”
  • “Me and My Guitar”
  • “Same Old Blues”
  • “Breaking All the Rules”
  • “Black Hole Sun”
  • “(I’ll Give You) Money”
  • “Baby, I Love Your Way”
  • “Do You Feel Like We Do”
  • “Four Day Creep”
  • “I Don’t Need No Doctor”
  • “While My Guitar Gently Weeps”

The setlist for Jason Bonham’s Led Zeppelin Evening Thursday was:

  • “Immigrant Song”
  • “Good Times Bad Times”
  • “Over the Hills and Far Away”
  • “What Is and What Should Never Be”
  • “Black Dog”
  • “Ramble On”
  • “Whole Lotta Love”
  • “Rock and Roll”
  • “Stairway to Heaven”
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