Better than: Every other kind of circus.
Peter Frampton is a bona fide guitar hero. While this might not be quite the revelation we're attempting to paint it as here, it is a fact that is unfortunately lost in the din of fanfare the singer/songwriter/guitarist still receives for his use of the Heil Talk Box effect. Most famously, it was used in the endless bridge section of the live version of "Do You Feel Like We Do" from the mega-selling Frampton Comes Alive! album.
However, Friday's performance at the Seminole Hard Rock Live proved to be a jarring reminder that not only is Peter Frampton the guy with the gimmicky talking guitar, Peter Frampton is one of the most underrated guitarists to come from the UK's game-changing class of the mid-'60s.
Blues guitar wunderkind Robert Cray opened Frampton's Guitar Circus. Cray mounted a full-scale blues assault on the audience, bending notes on his Fender Strat to sorrow-filled ecstasy and displaying a guitar tone that was simply otherworldly. Cray's stinging guitar coalesced with Jim Pugh's smokey organ throughout the set in a pairing that was absolutely sublime in its vibe. Cray's soul-infused blues was well-recieved by the early crowd. We couldn't help but think about how much more respect a talent like Cray deserves from the mainstream music community in a world where we are constantly reminded of the relevance of the blues.
Last time Mr. Frampton graced South Florida with a performance, it was on a tour that celebrated the 35th anniversary of the ...Comes Alive! album, and as such, included a performance of those tracks in the order that they appeared on the record. The performance, though rife with Frampton's adventurous guitar playing, focused on the legacy of that record, an album that changed people's perception of what a live album could be. This time around, fans were treated to Frampton's Guitar Circus, a show that has the man rolling up his sleeves and digging deep into his formidable quiver of riffs and tricks to provide a show that, while certainly satisfying for the casual fan, was truly geared toward the guitar-nerds in attendance.
The set kicked off with "Magic Moon (Da Da Da Da Da!)" and some hilarious Monty Python-esque animation on the back screen featuring a cartoon of Peter with guitars popping out of the top of his exploding head and some other circus-related fun. The song was an excellent warm up that called people back from the concessions and restrooms just in time to catch the classic "Doobie Wah." The early portion of the show reintroduced us to Frampton's disarming on-stage banter, and between charming anecdotes about his concerns about his daughter at a bachelorette party on South Beach during the performance, and the way he interacted with the overzealous shoutings of fans, Frampton proved, yet again, that he might be the most well-adjusted rock star ever.
The set featured the more tender fan favorites "Lines on my Face," "Wind of Change," and the (slightly) harder rocking "Show me the Way," all of which boasted blistering solo sections that displayed a guitarist far more developed than the Frampton of yesteryear. Much of Frampton's searing shred reports came by way of the famed and recently recovered Les Paul Custom that was believed to be lost forever in a Venezuelan cargo plane crash. Frampton told the instrument's unbelievable tale later in the evening, however, it was obvious by the way he played the thing that he was more than pleased to be reunited with his old friend.
"Double Nickels" and "I'll Give You Money" were high-water marks of the show's guitar histrionics. "Double Nickels," a track from Frampton's Grammy winning instrumental album, was a lovely romp through the guitarist's gypsy jazz influences. Adam Lester provided some jaw-droppingly accurate slide guitar playing amid Frampton's Django meets Knopfler musings. However, the latter number was a celebration of the riff that culminated in a showdown between Frampton and his apprentice. Both armed with Les Pauls, Frampton leaned in close to Lester for an extended solo portion that came to a head by way in a shared, blazing, and harmonized triplet lead that locked-in hard and ripped through the room in a way that would make even the Allman Brothers sweat. The display of unadulterated guitar mastery was met with a standing ovation.
After getting fan favorite "Baby I Love Your Way" out of the way, providing the couples in attendance a proper opportunity to neck and grind a little, Frampton elatedly welcomed surprise guest, Steve Cropper, to the stage. Cropper has written, produced, or played guitar on more major hits than you have fingers and toes to count on, however, you probably know him best as a member of the Blues Brothers band. Frampton's adulation to be sharing the stage with Cropper was palpable, and for us -- guitar-nerds in our own right -- it was an unexpected twist that made an already great show even better.
Frampton and Cropper took on the classics "Green Onions," which Cropper joked he never expected to see used in an advertisement for adult diapers, "In the Midnight Hour," which featured keyboardist Rob Arthur taking the lead vocals and doing a damn fine Wilson Pickett impression, if we do say so, and "Hip Hug-her." Cropper's barebones, all vibe guitar playing was an interesting counterpoint to Frampton's more ornate lead work, but the traded bars between the two worked in a way that really served the show wonderfully, and for true fans of the guitar, the performance was a once in a lifetime occasion.
The highlight for many proved to be the famous bridge portion of "Do You Feel..." in which Frampton called out "Hollywood, Florida," through the filtered Talk Box and via a fuzzed out note. While we were left wanting for a few Humble Pie tracks, the show's single encore had Steve Cropper return to the stage for a reading of the Beatles' "While My Guitar Gently Weeps," the pair tackled the song's solos as one. The night ended with Frampton shaking Cropper by the shoulders in excitement, and all being right in the world of nostalgic guitar heroism.
Personal Bias: Guitarist first, journalist second.
Random Detail: The overdressed casino-comp-crowd diaspora occurred after Cropper came out.
From the stage: "Tell me that was a girl, please" - Peter Frampton following a tech awkwardly straightening out something the guitarists strap/shirt from behind.
"Magic Moon (Da Da Da Da Da!)"
"Lines on my Face"
"Show me the Way"
"Wind of Change"
"I'll Give You Money"
"Baby I Love Your Way"
"Green Onions" w/ Steve Cropper
"In the Midnight Hour" w/Steve Cropper
"Hip Hug-her" w/Steve Cropper
"Can't Take That Away from Me"
"Black Hole Sun"
"Do You Feel Like We Do?"
"While My Guitar Gently Weeps" with Steve Cropper