Peter Frampton
at Bank of America Pavilion,
Boston, Mass. (15 July 2011)

As I watched Peter Frampton's lithe fingertips float up and down and across the grid of his guitar frets, claiming every combination of notes known to mankind (and no doubt, to various other animals as well), I was unexpectedly reminded of an episode of the sitcom Friends.

Central Perk had hired a professional musician named Stephanie (played by the Pretenders' Chrissie Hynde) to replace Phoebe Buffay as coffeehouse entertainment. Incensed, Phoebe confronted her competitor. "So, um, so um, how many chords do you know?" Phoebe asked.

"All of them," was Stephanie's startled but casual reply. This news prompted Phoebe to create her own protest song featuring the furious refrain, "Stephanie knows all the chords! Stephanie knows all the chords!"

Well, Peter Frampton knows all of the chords, too. Major, minor, seventh, eleventh, suspended, augmented, bar, slide, harmonic, individual notes, you name it. It's difficult to imagine any other guitarist being as familiar with the capabilities of the instrument as Frampton obviously is. Then again, he's been dabbling with the strings for more than five decades.

And it's also difficult to believe that 2011 marks the 35th anniversary of the release of the double album Frampton Comes Alive! Weren't we just breaking open the cellophane seal on that fresh new vinyl copy for the first time in our college dorm room, like, sometime last month? It certainly seems that way. So why not join in the fun for the Frampton Comes Alive! 35 Tour? It was a chance to see an accomplished musician perform some of the signature songs of our generation, and to mesmerize us with some of his guitar magic as well.

I never had a chance to see Peter Frampton in person "back in the day," when his hair was long and curly, and his loose jacket opened up to show off an alluring bare chest. But when I caught him at Showcase Live at Patriot Place in 2008, I was blown away. And not just by that really long song with the vocal effects. I was pleasantly shocked by Frampton's overall talent that night. And I began to wonder why his name isn't regularly mentioned in discussions with the likes of Eric Clapton, Stevie Ray Vaughn, Jeff Beck and other, "bigger" stars. Somebody's missing something here.

After I "liked" Peter Frampton on Facebook in 2010, I began to appreciate him even more. He pens his own posts and he's genuine on the screen, even as he personally addresses a half-million FB fans. When plans began for the "FCA 35 Tour," he let us in on the backstage details at nearly every turn. He explained that the full-length gigs would be three hours long, consisting of one set of the original album performed in its entirety, a 20-minute intermission, and a second set of additional and mostly newer music. It was obvious that this would be a must-see event, and the anticipation escalated with each new piece of information he provided. I knew I had to be there, even though I had just seen him three years earlier.

The Bank of America Pavilion is a 5,000-seat open-air venue, with a huge canvas fly-leaf that acts as a roof. It sits at the edge of Boston Harbor and lies in alignment with one of the runways of Logan Airport. Still, it's a very nice, casual venue. And tonight was a delightful, clear-sky summer evening: a perfect time to enjoy listening to good music and to watch the music-makers having as much fun as you were. Perhaps they were having even more fun than we were.

I had to laugh when the broadcast house announcements were supplied by the voice of veteran actor William Shatner. Months earlier, Peter had told us on FB that he had just met Shatner and had agreed to play on the actor's next album. Yikes! But I didn't remember Peter saying that Shatner had agreed in turn to do some recording for him. The delivery was hilarious, and I hope I wasn't the only person really hearing it, as people were eating and drinking and chatting and mingling before finding their seats. It's amazing, what you can learn on Facebook.

Frampton looked dapper indeed when he came out on the stage smiling, wearing black pants, a long-sleeved blue-striped shirt, a blue scarf and a black vest. His white sneakers helped him bounce around a lot. At 61, what hair he has is now white and closely trimmed. He was accompanied by Rob "WurliBoy" Arthur on keyboards, young Aussie Adam Lester on lead guitar, and drummer Dan Wojciechowski, which was nearly the same band I'd seen with him before. But on this tour, joining the group was also bassist Stanley Sheldon, who was part of the original Frampton Comes Alive! legacy lineup. Sadly, drummer John Siomos (1947-2004) and keyboardist/guitarist Bob Mayo (1951-2004) could not be part of the reunion.

As advertised, Peter began to lead his buddies through the FCA progression: not quite in the order of the original double-record set; but instead, as the band performed the songs and recorded them live back then (and on the 25th anniversary deluxe version). It started with "Something's Happening," "Doobie Wah" and "Lines on My Face." The video screen behind the musicians supplied a collage of big-hair photos and concert footage from the mid-1970s. It was fun to compare the "then" with the "now." And during "Lines on My Face," we were treated to a visual retrospective of young Peter, watching him grow up. We would continue to learn more about our host as the sun dipped behind the Boston skyline.

Next came "Show Me the Way" and "It's a Plain Shame." Tonight's crowd had seemed tentative and less than exuberant at first. But with "Show Me the Way," Frampton's first hit single, we began to hear others singing along with the chorus. And Peter himself seemed surprised and grateful at the positive reception, especially in the lines of the last verse: "I wonder if I'm dreaming / I feel so unashamed / I can't believe this is happening -- right here tonight in Boston!" Of course, his statement was met with cheers. "I see we have some true, true fans here tonight!" he exclaimed between songs.

His four bandsmen left the stage so that Peter could offer us an acoustic set alone with just his voice and his guitar. "Wind of Change" was from his first album; with its repeated phrase "All I do is for you," it sounded as though he was initially referring to us, his appreciative audience. At the same time, photographic tributes to John Siomos and Bob Mayo appeared on the screen, as Peter honored his former friends as well. "Just the Time of Year" was another pensive tune. Then came the spirited instrumental I absolutely adore: "Penny for Your Thoughts." I wished I had remembered to bring my binoculars along so that I could zoom in and study his picking technique. But even from my terrific seat in the eighth row (Row H), I could tell that I would never be able to mimic it in any way. I gave him a one-woman ovation for his masterful effort and for presenting me with one of my favorites.

With the solo version of "All I Wanna Be (Is By Your Side)," Peter truly began to wake up the congregation. This was the first big opportunity for audience participation; at the very least, everyone was able to chant "By your side." Frampton could even poke fun at himself by altering the lyrics to "I don't care / Now that I've ... lost some hair." His adept fingers once again added depth to what was in essence a relatively simple tablature. The resonance of that well-played guitar was accompanied by a thousands-voice choir echoing throughout the music tent. What fun we were having!

Rob, Adam, Stanley and Dan returned to the stage to resume full instrumentation with "Baby, I Love Your Way." Once again we were called upon to sing, and Peter even directed us in the refrain: "But don't hesitate / 'Cause your love won't wait." Now we were cooking! An intricate interlude by Rob Arthur on the keys led right into "I Wanna Go to the Sun," a hard-rocker that featured several intense solos by Frampton. That pace continued with "Nowhere's Too Far." I've never been especially fond of "(I'll Give You) Money." But I gotta say that the guys really rocked the roof off that sucker. The other three kept a steady beat while Peter and Adam traded complex licks, both working their ways up to the body of the box. It was amazing sight to watch and to hear; and they got in-song applause for their achievements, as well as a standing ovation after the fact. This would not be their only duel of the evening. How could the night and the musical selections get any better?

But of course, there was that one tune that we all longed for and expected to hear, and it came next. At the sound of the initial "Da-doo-dee-da, da-doo" notes, the crowd rose as one, moved by a force not of its own creation. However good you think it might be to experience the live version of "Do You Feel (Like We Do)" -- well, take that number and magnify it by 10. That still might not describe the sensation of standing with thousands of others -- yes, standing for the duration of the legendary 17-minute song -- and singing or shouting, "Do you, you / Feel like I do!" on every chorus. We clapped on the offbeats, watched the magic being woven in front of us and felt the musical escalations, crescendos and climaxes of each segment of the song. At the same time, the background screen paged through old and new photos of fans posing with Frampton himself or with the curly-haired image of him on that old 12- inch album cover. (Peter had requested that such photos be sent to him via Facebook, and his "friends" had delivered.)

Naturally, the number began with Frampton's guitar work. Then he and Rob traded licks, until the keyboardist took over and delivered a masterful, fiery solo of his own. When it was obvious that it was time for Peter to use that signature guitar talk box, he teased us by first walking up to that special microphone, then moving away. The crowd alternately cheered, then groaned. It took several more teases before he actually spoke into it, then threw his voice into his instrument. All the while, Adam, Stanley and Dan provided the steadfast beats that helped to guide the song to its heights, until the very air above us seemed charged with additional electricity. It was both invigorating and exhausting to be breathing in the middle of it. Alas, almost too soon the song arrived at its lengthy, crashing, final conclusions. For their team effort, all five musicians deserved an ovation. And why not? We'd already been on our feet, swaying and dancing, for more than a quarter of an hour.

Back in 1975, that masterpiece would have marked the finale of the concert. Tonight the band remained on stage for what would once have been a two-piece encore: "Shine On" (which was written by Frampton when he was with Humble Pie), and a quirky version of "Jumpin' Jack Flash." The timbre of Peter's voice and the varied talents of his musical partners did not much resemble the Stones, so the interpretation was an intriguing one. Thankfully, it was not as growling or frenetic as the Mick Jaggar rendition we're used to hearing. After our applause, it was time for the scheduled 20-minute intermission.

The concert appeared not to have been sold out, and the amphitheatre sported a few more empty seats after the break. That was the ticket holders' loss, for more great music was still to come. The second act began with two selections from the Thank You Mr Churchill album: "Asleep at the Wheel" and "Restraint." Peter had changed into a more casual red shirt in the interim. But that sure didn't mean he was planning on taking it easy for the rest of the night. His fingers launched into several scintillating solos on the first song and kept up with the quick pace of the second.

Three instrumentals from the 2007 Grammy-Award-winning Fingerprints album followed. "Float" featured a slow, mournful duet in measured thirds by Peter Frampton and Adam Lester. "Boot It Up" had a march-like beat, and this time, it was Rob Arthur's turn to again play musical tag with his band leader. "Double Nickels" was a breezy number that reminded me of George Benson's work in the late 1970s. Adam donned the silver sheaf to provide the slide lead on this one.

When Peter introduced "Vaudeville Nanna & the Banjolele," he explained it was a tribute to his parents and grandparents: the people who had encouraged and supported his musical passion when he was very young. So he donned a "banjolele" for just a four-line ditty as a sample of its tuning, then cast into a melodic mini-memoir of his relationship with the guitar. It was a wistful reminiscence. "Yeah, the best days of my life / I can never get back / What will never be again / But I can close my eyes / And I can see them." The background screen provided a moving walk down memory lane, with archival family photos of young Peter and his influential relatives. Immediately we could understand exactly how important The Guitar meant and still means to Frampton. Of course, if anyone else had been paying attention to the lyrics, they would have recognized that the singer/songwriter had already given us part of that message earlier, during "I Wanna Go to the Sun." That tune includes the quiet plea: "What am I supposed to do? / Music is my food and life / Don't take it away."

Peter had prefaced this second set by saying, "We gave you cake to start with. And now we've got some dessert here. More dessert. Or an antipasto." That was true enough when he noodled around on the strings and eventually headed into a second version of "All I Wanna Be (Is By Your Side)." We had heard the first one acoustically, more than an hour earlier. Some folks may not have even noticed that the tune was repeated. But really, it wasn't. Now with his full band behind him to supply the foundation and back-up vocals, Peter was free to transcend the basic chords and drift over any string at any position, from one end of the guitar neck to the other. This was a more robust and mature rendering, three times as long as the previous edition, with no need for filler from the audience. It was a vivid illustration of what could be accomplished when an expert was given free rein. I believe I now have a new favorite Frampton song.

As the shadows grew long and the day turned into night, those big old jet airliners sliced their way across the face of the full moon rising above us. And with the two-part instrumental, "Suite Liberte," the gang began to finish off the evening. In the sedate "Megumi" (part A), Peter and Adam once again mirrored their tones in thirds. "Huria Watu" (part B) brought forth a blues theme and prepared us for the same in the next few selections. It featured the historic tones of Rob's Wurlitzer organ and yet another fantastic Frampton solo. "Four-Day Creep" was another nod to the Humble Pie days. Rob Arthur and Adam Lester had contributed back-up harmonies all night. Here each man got his own four-line verse to belt out in blues fashion, and Peter had to settle for crooning the third verse, all between some rippingly great guitar riffs. They segued into a terrific blues-based rocker, "Off the Hook." Its last chord signaled the peak of the performance.

The main event came to a close with an instrumental cover of Soundgarden's "Black Hole Sun." Peter added his unique spin to the familiar melody by using the guitar talk box to voice part of the ending lyric. For the encore, he and the band returned with the George Harrison benediction, "While My Guitar Gently Weeps."

This Frampton Comes Alive! 35 concert was perfectly orchestrated. It lived up to its billing by consisting of 28 songs performed in about 3 hours. Some tunes we knew by heart; some were new to many in attendance. Half were from one of the biggest selling albums in rock history. Others were from a Grammy Award-winning recording. We knew what we were in for when we bought tickets to see this show. Perhaps the only true surprise to some folks was just how talented and professional Peter Frampton is; and additionally, what good guys he has surrounded himself with. At its essence, this time together was first about the power of the guitar, and secondly about the family, friends and fellow musicians who have helped lead Frampton to where he stands today.

It made good use of current technology, too. As mentioned, Frampton promoted the tour widely on Facebook. The designers of his background screen material used interesting and logical photos and images, and the effects were tasteful and not overdone. Frampton contracted with Abbey Road Live to record every concert and make the high-quality CD sets available for pre-purchase and pick-up immediately after each one. Now we can play "our" concert any time we want to hear it. We can belt out "Do you, you / Feel like I do!" to passing cars while driving on our local interstates. We can listen and transport ourselves to that lovely summer evening in Boston. (You can too, by placing an order at the Abbey Road Live website.)

Peter Frampton is a veteran performer and one heck of a guitar player. The fact that his name is missing from Rolling Stone's "100 Greatest Guitarists" list is unforgivable. Granted, his Fingerprints album was released three years after that list was published. It's time those editors updated their rankings.

Tonight Frampton did everything we could want him to do. He presented all the songs we wanted to hear and allowed us to sing along with our favorites. He was a personable host who could make a sizable amphitheatre seem like an intimate cabaret. His voice was strong and clear. His fingers knew what they were doing and where they were going. He gave us glimpses of his past, explaining his musical path through images, melodies, and lyrics. He seemed grateful for our kind attention. And he and his band certainly deserve continued success.

From now on, whenever I see Peter Frampton being handed a guitar by a road technician, all I'll want to be is by his side. But you know what? I'll be willing to settle for a seat in Row H.

by Corinne H. Smith
3 September 2011

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