Monday, July 29, 2019

Frampton Remains Alive...and Seemingly Well: On Farewell Tour, I Love His Way -- Chicago Concert Review

Concert Review

Peter Frampton & band
w/ opening act
Jason Bonham's Led Zeppelin Evening
Huntington Bank Pavilion, Chicago
July 28, 2019

In January 1976, when he was 25 and I was 7, Peter Frampton released Frampton Comes Alive, a double live album recorded the previous year, mostly at shows in San Francisco and on Long Island.

Although he'd previously earned some acclaim as guitarist for the band Humble Pie, and put out four studio albums under his own name, at that point the Englishman was not a star.

Only 1975's Frampton had broken Billboard's top 100--it went to #32--and he had yet to have any hit singles.

But while Frampton Comes Alive wasn't an instant sensation, it rather soon exploded--hitting #1 in April 1976, selling 8 million copies and becoming the best-selling live album of all-time (though it now ranks 4th).

Although my dad--more a classical, opera and Broadway fan but open to some rock--did bring late '70s mega-albums such as The Eagles' Hotel California, Fleetwood Mac's Rumours and the Saturday Night Fever soundtrack into the family's growing record collection, he never bought Frampton Comes Alive, nor did I until decades later.

So while I was aware of Frampton, hit songs such as "Show Me the Way" and "Baby, I Love Your Way," the popularity of Frampton Comes Alive and his role in the Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band movie--which I saw upon its 1978 release--he never figured that strongly into my rock fandom.

I vaguely remember the title track of his 1981 album, Breaking All the Rules, but even at the time, it felt like a minor comeback by a has-been. Frampton was all of 30, and aside from some 21st century curiosity that saw me buy but not particularly love Frampton Comes Alive, Peter remained a blip on my rock 'n roll radar.

I'd never seen him live in concert, even deciding a 2017 show in my hometown of Skokie was priced too high for my interest.

But I'd heard some good things about that acoustic gig, loved an interview he did with Howard Stern and was moved by his announcement earlier this year that he will "retire from regular vigorous touring at the end of this year due to being diagnosed with the autoimmune disease Inclusion Body Myositis (IBM)," a progressive muscle disorder characterized by muscle inflammation, weakness and atrophy.

Thus, I took note of the announcement of his show at the Huntington Bank Pavilion on Northerly Island--a venue he also played in 2016 and '18--and when Live Nation offered a special $20 ticket deal, I snagged three seats.

Hence, I was eager to see Peter Frampton.

But not that eager.

Even in doing some Spotifamilarizing with setlisted songs from earlier on the tour, there wasn't much I loved besides some Frampton Comes Alive highlights and "Breaking All the Rules."

And to be perfectly honest, the best music I heard Sunday night came before Frampton and his band took the stage.

For the night's--and mostly the tour's--opening act was Jason Bonham's Led Zeppelin Evening.

Bonham, himself a powerhouse drummer, is the son of Led Zeppelin's late, legendary John Bonham, and has played in the stead of his dad in some sporadic Zep one-off reunions.

And as he said from the stage, for 9 years now, he has toured to essentially pay tribute to his dad and the music he once made with Jimmy Page, Robert Plant and John Paul Jones.

At no point across Bonham's 50+ minute set did I imagine I was watch the actual Zeppelin, nor did it quite compare with seeing Plant, as I have numerous times. But with James Dylan doing a stellar job with Plant's vocals and Tony Catania ripping through the Page guitar parts, it was thrilling to hear "The Immigrant Song," "The Ocean," "Whole Lotta Love," "Rock and Roll," "Stairway to Heaven" and more.

Understandably, Bonham's crew didn't get headliner-style lighting, nor full crushing volume, but while Peter Frampton became pretty huge during the '70s, Led Zeppelin pretty much owned the decade.

So it was rather gutsy, and cool, that Frampton would readily wreak the comparisons upon himself, with an opening act that got most of the crowd onto their feet.

Yet while the music itself is one thing--and Zeppelin's greatest hits will win the battle for me against almost anyone--Frampton proved himself up to the challenge.

With a warm smile on his face, the once long-maned rock idol seemed comfortable as a still-estimable musician of 69, with little hair and a gray beard (and a t-shirt reading "EQUALITY").

Opening--as does Frampton Comes Alive--with "Baby (Something's Happenin')", Frampton often rather affably regaled the crowd with stories, including one about saving a bird that had somehow doinked itself on the singer's balcony in Nashville.

This actually led into a relatively new song about the incident called "I Saved a Bird Today."

Musically, the most overtly delectable moments harkened to the hallowed live album--"Show Me the Way," "Baby, I Love Your Way," the main set-closing long romp of "Do You Feel Like I Do," incorporating Frampton's famed talk box effect--but appreciating what Peter will be up against medically, just hearing him play any guitar leads was tremendously delightful.

Though he's been doing largely the same setlist--and therefore three blues covers--at most Finale Tour stops, it was particularly cool to hear him play these ("Georgia (On My Mind)," "Me and My Guitar," "Same Old Blues") in Chicago.

And being a huge Soundgarden fan, I got choked up hearing Frampton's largely instrumental take on "Black Hole Sun" and his spoken introduction to it, in which he dedicated the song to Chris Cornell, whom Peter had come to know after recording the tune for his 2006 Fingerprints album, his only to win a Grammy.

Even when a song, such as "(I'll Give You) Money," felt a tad indulgent--though Frampton's guitar interaction with Adam Lester was sweet--the truth is that on a picture-perfect night on Chicago's lakefront, skyline in view, two friends alongside, with a terrific opening act, all for $20, the whole performance was just joyful.

Most of all because of how cool Frampton seemed.

It would conceivably be easy for him to be somewhat bitter in having spent the last 40-some years in the shadow of a fabled album from his mid-20s, and now being stricken with an illness likely to rob him of his ability to play music.

But he was entirely amiable, engaging and gracious, thanking the rather full crowd, paying tribute to ex-bandmates who have passed on and speaking candidly about his diagnosis. (He didn't mention one notable childhood friend, David Bowie--who also was an art pupil of Frampton's dad--but did name drop another, Bill Wyman.)

As he's done in other cities, I would've relished him closing out the night with a cover of The Beatles' "While My Guitar Gently Weeps," seemingly a perfectly poignant end to the evening...and eventually his touring career.

But after a couple Humble Pie tunes as encores--including Ray Charles' "I Don't Need No Doctor," in
which I sensed an added air of defiance--Peter Frampton simply said "I can't say goodbye" and left the stage, seemingly not wishing to run afoul of the 11pm curfew. (Though Bonham and Frampton combined for a generous 3 hours of music, there's no reason the show couldn't have been slated to start half-hour earlier than the ticketed 7:30pm).

But I guess I really didn't need to hear his guitar weep, especially as Peter Frampton seemed not an iota sorry for himself.

Sure, it took me awhile, but I'm happy I saw Frampton come alive.

And, ooh baby, I loved his way.

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