Peter Frampton and his Band
Live at Riverside Casino, Riverside, IA
Saturday, August, 27, 2011
“Do you want me to get you a ticket?” I asked my wife as we pulled into Riverside Casino earlier this summer. Neither of us are gamblers; the visit was specifically designed to purchase Peter Frampton tickets at the venue to avoid any additional fees and extra charges.
My wife wasn’t even born when Frampton Comes Alive was released. In fact, Frampton was already old news when she first arrived. But for me, as a 10-year-old who witnessed the rise and fall of Peter Frampton firsthand, I understood the significance of what was the greatest selling double live album of all time.
I don’t know if that distinction still stands, but I do know that the vinyl document is a ubiquitous piece for a certain generation, a generation that my wife acknowledged she wasn’t a part of when she told me that she wasn’t interested in a ticket.
Frampton Comes Alive wasn’t my first recorded obsession; it came after Elton John’s Captain Fantastic and the Brown Dirt Cowboys and before Queen’s News Of The World. But I’m not so fickle that I no longer acknowledge Frampton’s impact on my rock and roll upbringing.
This is why I immediately jumped at Frampton’s casino stop, particularly after I learned he would be performing the album in its entirety as part of its 35th anniversary.
Nobody under thirty was there willingly. The casino’s outdoor stage area was filled with middle-aged fans, and I overhead such comments along the lines of “This is the second time I’ve seen him! But the first time, he had long, curly blonde hair!”
Frampton celebrated his 60th birthday this year, so those long, golden locks have gone-literally-and what hair he has left is short and grey. What remains is his toothy grin and an unbelievable talent at playing the guitar.
It’s something that he focuses on now. In fact, during the second set of more recent material, he performed a lot of instrumental songs that showed how he’s developed a wide range to his playing that goes far beyond the amplified Humble Pie boogie that kicked off his sing-stringed talents.
Frampton tackled these late career efforts with smooth ease and eloquent playing. While nowhere near the aggressive rock playing of Comes Alive, it retained a feeling of a fine artisan who’s still working hard to deliver performances of impeccable aptitude.
He seemed to understand that his days as a pin-up, which is actually how he began as a teen idol with The Herd, are long gone. He’s now completely focused on life as a guitarist, knowing very well that he needs to dish out a bit of F.C.A. during every performance, anniversary or not.
There’s no disputing that the crowd came for Comes Alive, and while the video screen behind the band displayed appropriate-era photographs of Frampton and his band, there was no hint that he was going to make the show a Polaroid copy of that landmark release.
“For those of you familiar with the vinyl version of the album, you may have noticed that the songs are out of order…I can see a worried look in some of your eyes.” Frampton noticed. He went on to explain that they were playing the same set as they did on that night at Bill Graham’s Winterland that night in 1975 and not the edited sequence vinyl release.
While that may have disrupted the audience members who came to hear the song-by-song rendition of the double album, for me it worked wonders. The arrangement of the real setlist was perfect, and I later discovered that Frampton would continually experiment with the nightly setlist, adding and deleting titles based on the crowd’s reaction. While the vinyl track listing has no flaws itself, the real setlist that night shows a killer one-two punch (“Something’s Happening” into “Doobie Wah”) followed by a segment of light and bouncy cuts, into an acoustic portion, before giving way to the flashing and heavier material by the end of the set.
Whatever formula he used, the original set list trumps the vinyl version and is as close to perfect as you could get.
“We’re well into side two now,” he reminded us, acting as almost a tour guide throughout the entire release, gingerly acknowledging that he understood how Frampton Comes Alive meant to a lot of those in attendance.
Speaking of side two: on the acoustic song “Winds of Change,” it sounds like someone lights a firecracker in the background during this quiet number. On Saturday night I could have sworn that on this same song, someone has dialed up a pre-recorded sample of that noise and placed it into the live mix at the exact same moment as what you’d hear on the record.
That freaked me out a little bit, not from being startled, but at me thinking about the noise from my old vinyl version and then hearing it live, wondering if it was real or if I was just hearing things.
Most of the performances in the set were performed at a much lower intensity than the original recording, but as the ticket stub reminded everyone in attendance, this was 35 years after the fact.
Instead, he replaced the hunger of the original performance with expert execution and stunning virtuosity during the extended solos. You could tell that songs like “Baby I Love Your Way” are in the set because of their obligation, but that doesn’t stop Frampton by checking out new directions during the solos.
By the time he has reached “I Wanna Go To The Sun” and “(I’ll Give You) Money,” the solos are reaching epic performances, causing even the most sedentary of audience members to raise from their seats-or lawn chairs as the case was in my back section.
Say what you want about casino shows, but for me they’re good fun for a number of reasons.
In Frampton’s case, the Saturday night show demonstrated decent numbers of well-intended Midwestern folks who thought nothing of downing a few beers and getting lit up on a beautiful August night.
At a casino show-or at least at the one I visit-there aren’t teenagers prowling around the parking lot hassling you to get inside to enjoy an $8 tall boy that they’ll loving pour into a plastic cup for you.
Instead, the Class of ’76 flowed around the outdoor stage, into the adjacent casino, past the indoor/outdoor smoking section, stopping to high-five a fellow graduate or to sneak a quick dance to “Show Me The Way” with a divorcee.
All of it looked remarkably similar to the shows that they probably attended back in ’75, where domestic beer and Pepsi were the only two beverages provided and retired Navy guys did a half-assed job at security.
For Saturday, it wasn’t ole armed service fellows or the excessive meatheads that our modern venue security force. Instead, it was casino workers looking for some extra overtime after their shift, politely pointing you towards the smoking section and reminding you of the seafood buffet after the performance.
Throughout it all, Peter Frampton smiled and shook his head at the three-hour time machine he had just created, crab legs not included.
That’s right: three hours. And during the entire thing, it didn’t look like there was any other place that he’d rather be.
Sure, there were those that chose to pack up an leave after the Comes Alive set, but not as many as I originally thought. There were several people who considered leaving, only to hang around when they heard something vaguely familiar.
Like an instrumental version of “Black Hole Sun,” where Peter solo’d Chris Cornell’s part and then whipped out the talkbox again to actually go into the chorus at the end of the song.
Or the set closing “While My Guitar Gently Weeps,” where the audience stayed out of respect to the source material, while probably not even knowing that Frampton learned about the talkbox while visiting Harrison’s sessions for All Things Must Pass.
Speaking of, my grin widened and I literally started giggling during the solo during “Do You Feel Like We Do.” Frampton would do a little scat and ask the appropriate questions a phrases (“I can’t hear you!”) while occasionally cracking up at some of the silly sounds he could get from the guitar effect.
“Now this is the time when we would have gone off stage for a few moments…and did drugs.” Frampton admitted, asking the audience to clap really loud, just like the would have had it really been the end of the set. “We don’t do drugs anymore,” he mentioned with a long pause before adding, “Well, we still do prescription drugs!” probably noting the inevitable pill count that seems to come with age.
It was the music that was timeless, however, taking on different nuances over the course of Comes Alive’s thirty-five years. Frampton delivered the record and his new material with the grace of someone who has seen both feast and famine in an impressively long career.
Frampton Comes Alive was released to serve fans as an introduction to Peter’s catalog, none of which managed to reach the heights of that live compilation.
Saturday’s show also served the same purpose in a way. It was a re-introduction to Frampton under the guise of his most notable effort. But we already knew the songs before we even bought the ticket, so there was indeed something higher going on.
Rather than merely revisiting the past, Frampton showed that even after his lowest points, he’s emerged levelheaded, sane, and with a better appreciation of the talents that put him on the roller coaster to begin with.
For lack of a better word, Peter Frampton's recent tour is merely an update example of him coming alive again even after things looked d.o.a. for many years in between.