They say that the only thing constant is change. And in the 35 years since six-string scintillator Peter Frampton released his groundbreaking live album Frampton Comes Alive, a lot of things have changed.
The obligatory encore-signaling cigarette lighter has been replaced by the much more fireman-friendly “cellphone faux-flame”. Digital downloads have supplanted eight-track tapes – except of course for those three copies of FCA at Mel’s 8-Track Heaven. And the “more experienced” Frampton has pragmatically fine-tuned “All I Want to Be (Is By Your Side)” to include the lyric “I don’t care now that I’ve lost some hair…”
But in a head-scratching bit of circular reasoning, they also say that the more things change, the more they stay the same. Huh? Don’t give yourself a migraine pondering the imponderable. Just wrap your head around this: the biggest selling album of 1976 still sells around 3,000 copies a week.
When the tremendously talented and commercially undervalued solo artist ignited the perfect firestorm by releasing FCA in America’s bicentennial year, the album sold over 6 million copies, earning it the No. 1 spot on the Billboard 200 chart for 10 weeks. The record has since sold over 17 million copies and been certified 6x platinum. And it shows no signs of slowing down. 8x platinum anyone?
The incomparable Frampton and his equally incomparable group, Stan Sheldon (bass), and late band members Bob Mayo (keyboards), and John Siomos (drums) created something truly remarkable all those years ago.
And the peerless performer still has the instinctive ability to move, inspire and electrify a crowd. Consider the ecstatic fans at Mesa’s Ikeda Theatre electrified. The throng at the Frampton Comes Alive! 35 Tour stop witnessed something that could only be described as “déjà whew!” – as in, “That was even better than the first time!”
And that was especially true for any Arizonans that were lucky enough to catch Frampton’s 2011 AVA Amphitheater set in Tucson, enabling committed fans to enjoy both the musical forest and the trees.
The Tucson show was exceptional to be sure. But unbelievably, the Mesa stop was even better, helped in part by the added presence of the prized Gibson Les Paul Custom guitar that he used on the original recording of FCA and two Humble Pie albums.
At the beginning of the show, Frampton proudly displayed the refurbished axe, thought to be destroyed in a 1980 crash of a cargo plane carrying his equipment while en route to Panama. To the guitarist’s interminable delight, the cherished piece was recently located on the Dutch island of Curacao by two fans – two really lucky fans.
For the first half of the phenomenal show, Frampton, Sheldon and new band members Adam Lester (guitar), Rob Arthur (keyboards/guitar) and Dan Wojciechowski (drums) channeled their best M.C. Escherwith a remarkable live performance of a remarkable live album.
The current tour is a first for Frampton – the first time that he and his band have played FCA in its entirety since its ’76 release. A special night to be sure. But when Wojciechowski’s distinctive drum intro signaled the opening notes of “Something’s Happening,” the sellout-crowd sensed that something was really happening.
Frampton’s shockingly underappreciated guitar prowess was on display throughout the evening, including some dexterous work on “Lines On My Face” and “I Wanna Go To The Sun.” He also proved himself to be a master of lyrical understatement as he sang “Music is my food and my life” on the latter tune.
He occasionally changed things up by slowing things down with his mind-blowing solo acoustic fretwork, highlighted by a short but very sweet “Penny For Your Thoughts” and a pensive “Wind Of Change.” As Frampton stirringly meandered through the latter tune, pictures of lost bandmates Siomos and Mayo played behind him on a video screen, providing attentive fans with an incredibly moving, moving picture.
It isn’t often that you can keep a crowd interested in a song seems almost as long as an episode of Jersey Shore, but at the end of an 18-minute “Do You Feel Like We Do,” the beguiled concertgoers were begging for more.
The charitable band members willingly passed the musical plate around the stage, highlighted by Arthur’s colossal keyboards and a matchless axe de deux between Frampton and Lester. And belying his understated yet weighty work behind-the-scenes throughout the evening, Sheldon’s basswork on the rock classic was a rhythmic revelation.
But just as he did 35 years ago, Frampton stole the stage with his trademark talkbox, chatting up the fans with the help of his electric guitar and patented Framptone. The crowd screamed its approval as he teasingly approached the trademark gadget and roared again and again as he related a hilarious story about meeting talkbox pioneer Joe Walsh in a Los Angeles restaurant. When Frampton offered Walsh a Framptone, JW replied with a chuckle, “That’s the least you can do.”
Frampton quickly moved from the ridiculous – as in ridiculously talented – to the sublime, as he focused primarily on instrumental work from his Grammy winning Fingerprints and most recent album, Thank You Mr. Churchill.
The “stuff without words” as Frampton dubbed it, was in a word – stunning. Whether it was the bluesy “Float,” the funk-rock tinged “Boot It Up” or the slide flavored “Double Nickels,” the gifted guitarist left no doubt as to his rightful claim as a six-string superstar.
He did, however, play a few tunes that had words, including a slower, jazzier version of “All I Want To Be,” proving that there are rare songs that get you to a good place no matter what the speed. Frampton played a wonderfully whimsical tribute to his beloved grandmother entitled “Vaudeville Nanna and the Banjolele.” His “nanna” gave the guitar great a banjolele when he was very young, beginning Frampton’s entire magical, musical tour. Thanks be to Nanna!
Frampton closed the show with an incredible cover of friend George Harrison’s “While My Guitar Gently Weeps.” Whether it was the acoustics of the concert hall or the late Beatle’s approving presence, the song’s spiritual essence moved more than one fan to tears. But then, that may have been because the unbelievable night was coming to a close – leaving us wondering when we would see the amazing artist again.
It’s hard to say why he chose to recreate the Frampton Comes Alive! tour after 35 years. The music icon said recently that, “I have to play guitar and I have to play live. That’s what drives me.”
I for one am ecstatic that Peter Frampton is a driven man – and uh, that he didn’t wait for 36 years…
If you missed the show, you can purchase a four-CD set of the AVA Amphitheater concert or any of the other stops on the Live! 35 Tour at http://www.abbeyroadliveus.com/.