in performance: peter frampton

peter frampton. photo by david dobson.

peter frampton. photo by david dobson.

“This is not the Kelly Clarkson concert,” shouted an announcer before Peter Frampton took the stage at Cardinal Stadium in Louisville last night. That seemed a fair enough warning, especially since the American Idol star was performing just around the corner at Freedom Hall to round out the Kentucky State Fair’s opening night festivities.

Admittedly, Frampton has designed more than a few attractive pop songs over the past four decades, the likes of which wouldn’t have seemed at all foreign in Clarkson’s show. And, yes, quite a few were spotlighted again by Frampton last night. Among them: a wistful All I Want Be, a still chipper Show Me the Way (introduced by Frampton as coming from “that double album live thing,” referencing 1976’s multi-platinum Frampton Comes Alive!; the song’s studio version actually dates back to 1972) and the more sentimental Baby I Love Your Way, which was reunited with the tropically minded acoustic prelude Nassau that accompanied it on 1975’s Frampton album.

But those were the expected songs. The instances during the two hour performance where Frampton truly came alive unfolded in works more directly linked to his still monstrous guitarwork. After opening with a double shot of vintage Motown (Shotgun and Signed, Sealed, Delivered) and a nicely bittersweet slice of  ‘70s pop charm (Lines On My Face), Frampton dug into 2006’s Grammy winning instrumental album Fingerprints for Boot It Up. Recalling the muscular roar of the hard fusion music Jeff Beck has explored on and off for years, Frampton made a black Gibson Les Paul sing with gallant, propulsive riffs and an ensemble groove that bordered on funk.

Time and time again, that wonderfully volatile tone pushed its way to the forefront of the performance, whether it was through the crunchy chords and solos at the heart of Frampton Comes Alive!-era rockers like (I’ll Give You) Money and a 20 minute marathon reading of Do You Feel Like We Do, or in the bludgeoning wah-wah sounds summoned for a hearty cover of the Soundgarden hit Black Hole Sun (also from Fingerprints).

Frampton the guitar hero was also in the driver’s seat for an elegiac but still feisty new tune called Thank You Mr. Churchill while pedal effects and live loops created a whirlpool of layered guitar mayhem before the show closed with a thoroughly vital encore of George Harrison’s While My Guitar Gently Weeps.

Of course, there wasn’t anything gentle about the interpretation. For a rock veteran set to turn 60 next spring, Frampton is anything but mellow these days. Sure, he still sings the ‘70s pop hits with a huge, tireless smile on his face. But the joy of this show was rooted in the simple pleasures that surface when a cranked up, joyous and thoroughly schooled guitarist lets his fingers do the shouting.

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