"Music is my food and life
Don't take it away"
I was expecting a greatest hits set.
I didn't expect Peter Frampton to be the savior of rock and roll.
There were blue-hairs in the audience. Well, wealthy ones, who looked like they'd cozy up to a horse but not a Les Paul. Patrons who go to all the shows. People who looked to have abandoned rock and roll with the advent of the Beatles.
So, Peter comes out with his acoustic, performs mellow tunes to satiate the assembled multitude and then exits to hosannas.
But this is not what happened, he positively WAILED! Didn't give the audience what it wanted, but what it needed. He illustrated what it was like to be a guitar god, from a different, long gone era, but in this case positively modernized for today!
The band hit the ground running with "Somethin's Happening," technically entitled "Baby (Somethin's Happening)" from the third LP:
"All right, somethin's happening
Hold tight, it might be lightning
Turn up the lights I feel like dancing"
He was doing the full shed show, after all, he'd graced the stage at a sold-out Red Rocks the night before, but instead of 9,000, the Vilar holds 575, and the audience was full of resort retirees with more money than fandom. But Frampton plowed on. Playing to those who cared and converting those who didn't. Shining the lights on them and getting them to sing the chorus as if they were at a rock and roll fantasy camp.
And the best part of "Somethin's Happening" is when Peter squeezes out those notes, which he did so exquisitely on his Gibson, my fingers were twitching and my face was scrunching just like it did when I listened along back in my bedroom in Fairfield, Connecticut.
And from there the show just rocked harder.
Until the fourth cut, when Peter gave them what they wanted, what they came for, "Show Me The Way."
But then the show took a left turn. Peter played a new number, "Saved A Bird," prefacing it with the true tale that inspired it and imploring the audience to clap after like it was "Do You Feel," getting them to practice beforehand, and they executed their job with energy and excitement after Peter performed the number he just "dropped" last week, and the live iteration superseded the recorded version.
And then, it's back to "Frampton Comes Alive!," right?
Frampton went to the opening cut from his 2006 Grammy-winning instrumental album "Fingerprints."
"Boot It Up" reminded me of nothing so much as a Jeff Beck workout. But with twin guitars burning up the stage.
And then it occurred to me. This show was straight out of '69. Maybe '70 or '71. Back before the internet, back before diversions.
Before the show Frampton announced that you could take as many snapshots and videos as you wanted during the first three songs, but after that… The ushers policed this policy, no one was distracted.
And there were no video screens. Just a band on stage. MUSIC!
And when the mellifluous tones engulf the auditorium your mind is set free, your life is laid out before you, you contemplate where you were and how you got here but in this instance it wasn't nostalgia, but new music that was positively ALIVE!
In an era where everything is canned, there were no hard drives whatsoever. Just a five piece banging it out, it was akin to listening to a band in a basement, back when that's what kids did, get together and knock it out before they all became addicted to social media.
Listen to "Boot It Up," you've probably never heard it, but it's a one listen get:
And from there it was ANOTHER cut from "Fingerprints"!
I saw these acts when they were in their heyday.
I saw them on the comeback tour, maybe once more, but I cannot go again.
They've stopped being musicians and started being cardboard cutouts, vessels for your memories. They emerge in outfits and play their hits to prerecorded backup tracks and the whole thing is positively creepy. I may be old, but I am not dead.
Whereas Frampton doesn't wear a wig, he let his hair go white, he's still venturing down the path of rock and roll, being a musician, do you want to come along? HELL YEAH!
And after his tribute to Chris Cornell with a searing rendition of "Black Hole Sun," I started to wonder, was he EVER going to give the audience what they came for? NO! There was a high-amped take of "Money," and the version of "I Wanna Go To The Sun" was not the quiet one from the live album, but a take even more blistering than the studio version.
And after a rousing rendition of "Baby, I Love Your Way," the audience which remained, the blue-hairs were long gone, was up and swaying in a communal ritual that linked what was to what now is.
I thought he wasn't going to play it. Since he'd mentioned it earlier in the show, that's a harbinger of absence. And the whole presentation was a left turn, a journey down the road less taken, but then…
The last song on "Frampton's Camel," the longest cut on "Alive!," the one that dominated FM radio in the seventies but is rarely heard anymore except on the satellite, since it's over fourteen minutes long…
You know the descending riff.
And soon those not already standing got up from their seats. They had to pray at the altar of rock and roll, they needed to reveal who they truly were.
They didn't look the same. They'd experienced ups and downs. Were beaten down by the world, but when they heard this song they all felt like we who lived through the era when rock ruled do.
"Must have been a dream, I don't believe where I've been Come on, let's do it again"
Seems like a dream from this distance, and I thought I could never do it again. But I'm standing there, part of the assembled multitude, watching the band trade solos (Bob Mayo!) and I'm thinking that maybe, just maybe, rock can come back, at least for those of us who once believed. It requires us to pull on our boots and start marching, not forgetting where we we've been, but getting excited about where we're going.
He could have gone through the motions. No one's paying attention in Beaver Creek, Colorado. It's just another gig on the endless road. I've seen acts punch the clock for decades, on the fumes of what once was, burdened by who they used to be. But Frampton somehow cast aside the chains. He's all over Twitter, tweeting his political opinions when everybody is afraid to offend a single potential customer. Hell, I'll argue the debacle in Minnesota was good for his image, you see he's still a star and he still cares! We want those who believe in themselves, who want to give it their all, who want to surf the zeitgeist along with us, who have not forgone their sense of humor, who know their prowess on their instrument can motivate armies immune to the rantings of politicians.
You see, we feel like they do.
And we want to feel this way more. We want to get up off the couch, the only reason we're watching Netflix is because our musicians have let us down. But if a pied piper stood up and decided to lead, we'd follow them.
We couldn't help but follow Frampton last night.
I figured there'd be no encore. After all, Peter and his band had given it their all for almost two hours, and how do you follow up "Do You Feel Like We Do"?
But the house lights did not come on. The audience kept clapping and cheering. It resembled nothing so much as the Fillmore East. And then Peter came back on stage.
I figured for a couple of quiet numbers, you know, to calm the audience down and send them home ready for bed, some of those acoustic takes from the live album.
"Four Day Creep" boogied into an over the top version of "I Don't Need No Doctor"! They were rockin' the Vilar. Just like Peter rocked the Fillmore back in the spring of '71, when I was there, when the headliner was Lee Michaels.
The double live LP was released that fall and Humble Pie became giants. It looked like the laugh was on Frampton, who announced he was leaving before it was recorded. But in music you don't play it safe, you go your own way, that's where the rewards are planted, on the road less taken.
And we walked down that road to nirvana last night.