Peter Frampton is one of those guys who seems born to play the big rooms. It’s hard for me to picture him without a stadium full of people in the frame. That hugeness only lasted for a few years of a career spanning almost fifty, but it’s so rare that it is, by its very nature, one of the most memorable things about Frampton. The deflation of that hugeness was even more memorable at the end of the seventies, but with the selective vision of hindsight, none of that matters anymore. Today, he can play Beatles covers without peoples’ minds immediately turning to his starring role as Billy Shears in Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band. He can perform a setlist that ignores his biggest-selling studio album, 1977′ s I’m In You, and no one bats an eye. The mind, especially the mind of a rock fan, has a way of remembering the things it wants to, and as long as we got what we came for – a big chunk of Frampton Comes Alive, a little talkbox action – then people were going to have a good time. When he’s playing the stuff people want to hear, all past sins are easily forgiven.
There is a grandness to his seventies work that very few rock bands have aspired to since that time, and it’s a perfect fit for a summer night at the Bowl. While he looks quite different today, he sounds almost exactly the same, undimmed by the years. In one of the only unpredictable moments of the set, the band broke out a note-perfect cover of Soundgarden’s “Black Hole Sun”, with Frampton playing the vocal melody on guitar, only singing on the last chorus. But, he does sing that final chorus through the talkbox! It’s a surprise, and yet meets our expectations at the same time. That’s thoughtful planning.
For this summer’s Guitar Circus tour, he also plays a gracious host to three major talents. Steel player Robert Randolph makes the first appearance with a firey “I’m Going Down”. Los Lobos’ David Hidalgo takes the stage for a boiling take on “Mas Y Mas,” and the band prove themselves to be up to the task of handling East LA polyrhythms. Frampton is an enthusiastic participant in both jams, trading leads with Randolph and Hidalgo but also acting as a generous support player.
But the biggest audience response goes to esteemed Canadian Randy Bachman, who launches into the opening chords of “Taking Care Of Business” with the authority of a man who knows a thing or two about the caretaking of business. It’s not even BTO’s best song, but Bachman’s appearance has an electric effect on the audience, many of whom are standing up for the first time all night, proclaiming to the high heavens that they know of what this man speaks. Each and every one of us has a time in our life where we have to step up and take care of the shit, and we relate to what Bachman is telling us. I hope someone that books bands took note of how overjoyed people were to have the guy up there for five whole minutes – can we please get Bachman & Turner down here for a full set one of these days?
For the final encore, Frampton brought out his co-headliner, Chicago blues legend Buddy Guy, for a duet on “While My Guitar Gently Weeps.” In his earlier set, Guy had played a lot of it loud and aggressive, wielding the guitar like a weapon while strolling up and down the aisles of the Bowl’s Garden section. Or he played it funny, imitating the tones of famous players, tightening his butt cheeks comically when doing Clapton. For this final number, he gave up some of his most lyrical playing of the night. It was a fitting end to a really nice night out for fans of the six-stringed arts.