In an era rife with farewell tours, Peter Frampton's is perhaps the saddest. He's not packing it in because he's tired of the road or performing. As he announced in February, Frampton is suffering from Inclusion-Body Myositis (IBM), a muscle disorder that causes inflammation, weakness and atrophy. That disease is forcing the 69-year-old British guitar phenom to step away from what he's best known for — performing live.
Back in 1976, the British singer/guitarist made his commercial breakthrough with Frampton Comes Alive!, a two-record set which to this day is one of the best-selling and best-known live albums in rock history. It was recorded mostly at the Winterland Ballroom in San Francisco, but the Forum, across state in Inglewood, Calif., has a prominent place in his history. In his '70s heyday, it was a stop on Frampton's tours, so it seemed fitting one of the final dates on his farewell trek would include a visit to the arena Saturday night (Oct. 5).
Of course, Frampton has survived some missteps during his '70s heyday, ranging from the ballad "I'm in You," released following the massive success of Frampton Comes Alive! to the disastrous Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band movie he co-starred in with the Bee Gees. Saturday, there was nary a hint of those blunders in the set list or the career-spanning opening video montage. Instead, Frampton focused on material from his early solo albums (that became better known on Frampton Comes Alive!), songs from his recently released All Blues, nods to his days with '70s Brit rockers Humble Pie, and some key covers with deep emotional ties to the singer/guitarist.
Though it was billed as Peter Frampton's Finale — The Farewell Tour, Frampton didn't make reference to his last stand, nor was the show a bummer. Rather, it felt like a celebration with the singer/guitarist taking a joyful look back at his career, with about 17,000 on hand to partake in the party.
Dressed in jacket, T-shirt and jeans, Frampton looked lean and fit and it didn't appear that the disease has affected his ability to perform, as he was fine in voice and his guitar virtuosity remained intact for the two-hour set.
Opening with "Baby (Something's Happenin')," the title track from Frampton's third studio album, released in 1974, and the opening cut on Frampton Comes Alive! (where it was retitled simply "Something's Happening"), Frampton and his four-piece backing band — Adam Lester (guitar/vocals), Rob Arthur (keyboards/guitar/vocals), Dan Wojciechowski (drums) and Steve Mackey (bass) — were in top form.
Prior to performing the third song of the set, "Lines on My Face," Frampton shared a story about his first trip to New York as a solo artist to record his second album, 1973's Frampton's Camel. He recalled how his new drummer, John Siomos, only had a mismatched drum kit made of various odds and ends, so Frampton bought him a green Ludwig set. Years later, Frampton quipped, he bought it again on eBay, only for much more money. He then motioned over to drummer Wojciechowski, noting he was playing that very drum kit, complete with the Wind of Change cover art. Frampton dedicated the delicate ballad to Siomos and guitarist/keyboardist Bob Mayo, long-time members of his backing band who were immortalized on Comes Alive!, but have since passed.
During the set, Frampton mostly focused on his guitar-fueled, hard-rocking side and blues numbers, but he also performed his two best-known pop hits, "Show Me the Way" and "Baby, I Love Your Way." The former came early in the set, with his name in red neon letters on the video screen, in homage to the '70s TV show The Midnight Special, and Frampton moving to center stage to use a talk box, the guitar/vocal effect featured on some of his most notable songs.
Prior to "Baby, I Love Your Way," Frampton shared a story about how he traveled to the Bahamas for a short solo writing session between albums and tours, but was sidetracked by a chance meeting with Alvin Lee that resulted in several days of hard partying. With only a few days left on his trip, he ended up writing "Baby, I Love Your Way" in an afternoon on the beach. ("Show Me the Way," he said, came on the same day that morning.) Frampton performed the song on acoustic with much of the crowd singing along.
A mostly instrumental cover of Soundgarden's "Black Hole Sun" hit hard, following Frampton's intro that noted he once performed the song live with the late Chris Cornell on vocals. He dedicated the song to Cornell, his wife and children, and added some talk box vocals towards the end, giving it an otherworldly feel.
The encore "While My Guitar Gently Weeps" also carried an emotional wallop, with the knowledge that some of Frampton's earliest noteworthy work was as an unaccredited guest on George Harrison's All Things Must Pass. While Frampton's performing career is indeed passing, Saturday's show gave us reason not to cry, but to celebrate his career triumphs.
Here's the set list:
"Lines on My Face"
"Show Me the Way"
"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"