Archive for in performance

in performance: jim james

jim james.

jim james.

If Louisville audiences didn’t have the bearded, bushy haired visage of Jim James already imprinted on their collective rock ‘n’ roll psyches, they might have wondered exactly who the artist was onstage last night at the Louisville Palace.
For sure, it was James, back in his hometown for Thanksgiving. But this was very much a workingman’s holiday as the singer, guitarist and song stylist was in the midst of a tour away from his more familiar artistic enterprise, My Morning Jacket. That explains, to a degree, what might have thrown anyone not versed in the music he makes under his own name. In My Morning Jacket, James is a conjurer, a rock star of epic and very mobile design. With the five member band he assembled last night, which used the Louisville indie trio Twin Limb as its backbone (as well as the evening’s opening act), James largely unplugged from rock ‘n’ roll to become the psychedelic soul crooner that regularly sings with low, reflective fervor on his new solo album, “Eternally Even.”
James and his band played all of the record’s eight tunes (nine if you count the fuzzed out, keyboard/percussion dominate prelude to “We Ain’t Getting Any Younger”). The most immediate difference between these songs and MMJ music, outside of the new record’s very outward preference for lo-fi psychedelia and Shuggie Otis-style soul, was the heavy de-emphasis on guitar. While James tried to calm any game changing fears by prefacing the show-opening “Hide in Plain Sight” with a jagged electric guitar break, such moments were sporadic. The bulk of the evening’s guitar chores went to Twin Limb’s Kevin Ratterman, whose playing worked off more ambient waves of processed sound rather than organic leads, solos or hooks. As such, newer works like “Same Old Lie” and “True Nature” favored a denser melodic fabric than the familiar MMJ drive while slightly older works from James’ 2013 solo debut record, “Regions of Light and Sound of God” (in particular, “A New Life”) opted for a more vintage pop appeal that, at times, recalled the massive musical constructions of Phil Spector.
All of this was appealing enough even though James appeared, from a performance standpoint, a little stymied. Free of heavy guitar detail, be prowled across the stage empty handed as he sang. Sometimes, the effect allowed him to dig into the more spiritual, introspective vibe of the new material. In other instances, he just seemed uncomfortable and lost.
But the ace in the hole of this two hour show was an extended encore segment that served as a compact but riveting journey through James’ music outside of MMJ. It began with the solo acoustic “Changing World,” pulled from the 2012 album “New Multitudes” that pinned new music to unpublished Woody Guthrie lyrics. That bled into perhaps the evening’s most moving and unexpected number, an a cappella turned sing-a-long version of Bob Dylan’s “The Times They Are-A Changin’” that sounded frighteningly topical. James then regathered his band to revisit Monsters of Folk’s “Dear God,” the New Basement Tapes’ “Down on the Bottom” and two more “Regions of Light” songs, “Of the Mother Again” and “State of the Art,” with a cover of the Velvet Underground’s emancipating “I’m Set Free” spliced in between. This was where folk, soul and, yes, blazing rock ‘n’ roll crashed into each other, creating a remarkably full artistic profile where a Jacket was clearly not required.

in performance: david crosby

david crosby.

david crosby.

David Crosby seemed to take delight last night at the Norton Center for the Arts in Danville at the notion high ranking politicos might be rankled by his 45 year old song “What Are Their Names,” a tune that lambasted corporate driven wars and the body counts they trigger.

“I’d like to think they don’t like me singing it,” he remarked before the work swelled into an incantation that had all the earmarks of a vintage protest tune. Here’s the thing, though. This actually proved to be a fish-out-of-water moment for a singer whose career began during the Vietnam era. The rest of the program centered far more on the contemplative music from Crosby’s just released “Lighthouse” album.

Aided by Snarky Puppy bandleader, bassist and guitarist Michael League, who co-wrote much of the new material and produced all of “Lighthouse,” Crosby performed seven of the record’s nine songs. Thematically, those works reached from the flight of global refugees (“Look in Their Eyes”) to more internalized meditations (“By the Light of Common Day”). Musically, their outlines were light in structure and folkish in design. But they were also poetically jazzy in execution, especially when you factored in contributions by keyboardist Michelle Willis and guitarist Becca Stevens, both accomplished songwriters whose primary function last night was to recreate the vocal stacks Crosby and League created for “Lighthouse” onstage. The resulting music was attractive enough though somewhat tentative sounding in spots (this was just the second performance of this quartet’s young existence) with little variance in tone and temperament from song to song, save for the more percussive syncopation of the New York ode “The City.”

There were also nods to the past, of course. “Laughing” and “Orleans” were resurrected from Crosby’s 1971 debut album “If I Could Only Remember My Name” with League summoning pedal steel-like ambience from electric guitar on the former. “Carry Me,” a 1975 work originally cut with Graham Nash, nicely retained its steadfast sense of hope in this drummer-less setting. Taking the most fluid advantage of the ensemble’s vocal possibilities, though, were “Déjà Vu” and “Guinnevere,” the latter of which gave Stevens and Willis the job of delivering the high harmonies supplied most often through the years by Nash.

Joni Mitchell’s “Woodstock,” slowed with summery, pastoral grace, was saved for an encore, capping off a performance that made all the requisite stops in the past but was obviously built for maximum performance in the here and now.

 

in performance: jd mcpherson

jd mcpherson.

jd mcpherson.

It takes no small level of nerve to have one of your own compositions, much less your sophomore album, share its title with one of pop music’s most familiar vanguard songs. But when JD McPherson tore into the jubilant charge of “Let the Good Times Roll” last night at Willie’s Locally Known, you tended to place the classic jump blues tune of the same name on the back burner. McPherson used his song to ignite an unrelentingly potent 75 minute set where roots music styles and traditions were reassembled into a keenly crafted, sonically crisp and joyously executed sound of his own.

Some of the references were pretty exact, like the rockabilly strut that propelled “Crazy Horse” or the Coasters-meets-Beach Boys croon that warped around blasts of turbo charged guitar twang during “Bridgebuilder.” But there were also times when McPherson’s ultra-focused band zeroed in on second generation inspirations, such as the jittery chorus of “Firebug” that recalled some of Nick Lowe’s Rockpile-era music from the late ‘70s. Curiously, McPherson acknowledged the influence directly by following the tune with a cover of Lowe’s “Rome Wasn’t Built in a Day,” one of the first tunes in the set to decelerate into a cooler, more contemplative groove.

Mostly, though, it was McPherson’s total reinvention of the vintage sounds that made for the performance’s most arresting moments. To that end, the show’s entire pacing came into play. This wasn’t a performance that dwelled on small talk. One song seemed to incite the next, creating a domino effect of sorts that had you absorbing its impact through clusters of tunes rather than through individual ones.

An extraordinary case in point came when the buzzsaw guitar coda from “Bridgebuilder” gave way to a bossa nova-like interlude from keyboardist Ray Jacildo. That, in turn, crashed head on into cyclical guitar riffs from McPherson and Doug Corcoran that detonated “Head Over Heels,” the least roots-savvy song of the night. The guitar maelstrom was further agitated by waves of electric fuzz bass by Jimmy Sutton, who otherwise spend the majority of the evening adding to the set’s more organic, rustic stride on acoustic upright bass.

For sheer diversion, there was the encore version of “Oil in My Lamp,” which sent this Americanized roots and rock celebration down to Jamaica for a very cool and credible serving of ska.

Expertly paced and vigorously executed with a clean but still deeply soulful sound mix to cap it all off, this one the most authoritative, efficient and seriously fun rock outings of the fall.

 

in performance: blind boys of alabama/dirty dozen brass band/roomful of blues

the blind boys of alabama.

the blind boys of alabama.

“We want you wake up,” urged Jimmy Carter, 84, last night at Heritage Hall as the Blind Boys of Alabama served up some serious 21st century gospel to cap off a three-act, roots-rich benefit concert for Big Brothers Big Sisters of the Bluegrass called, aptly enough, Big in the Bluegrass.

Though the venue was more than half empty, those in attendance heeded the call. At its core, the group’s sound was all Southern gospel, full of dynamics and drama, but its music regularly dipped into secular songs – albeit ones with strongly spiritual themes and inclinations. As such, the Blind Boys’ headlining set began with a run of tunes popularized by the Impressions (“People Get Ready”), Norman Greenbaum (“Spirit in the Sky”) and Blind Willie Johnson (“Nobody’s Fault But Mine”), all of which seemed to fit the group’s ragged but immensely devout harmonies. Similarly, the most moving song of the evening sounded heavily traditional, but wasn’t. It was a patient, engrossing reading of the Chi-Lites’ “There Will Never Be Any Peace (Until God is Seated at the Conference Table”) that gave the Southern slant of the Blind Boys’ gospel vision a very worldly glow.

Opening the evening were two miniature sets – about 30 minutes each – by the Dirty Dozen Brass Band and Roomful of Blues.

Making its second Lexington appearance in less than three months, the Dirty Dozen was all about loose, party-favored fun. It performance was a mix of the band’s New Orleans street parade heritage and James Brown level funk, a blend mirrored in a closing medley of “When the Saints Go Marching In” and “Dirty Old Man.” While the thrust of the performance was the group’s front line horn trio, it was baritone saxophonist Roger Lewis who proved to be the MVP, summoning wildly scorched solos but also colors that fueled the music’s more punctuated grooves and, during times when sousaphone wasn’t enough, bass patterns.

The opening performance by Roomful of Blues was, in comparison, scholarly. It too was fronted by horns, but the band’s blend of jump blues, swing and soul was clean and exact, yet still fiercely soulful. “It All Went Down the Drain” was full of playful, brassy sass, “I Would be a Sinner” offered a 12 bar blues variation that veered joyously into swing and “Two for the Price of Ten” triggered industrious sparring between trumpeter Doug Woolverton and pianist Rusty Scott. It all made for a convincing enough appetizer to suggest a headlining show by this veteran Rhode Island ensemble needs to head our way soon.

in performance: eric johnson/gonzalo bergara quartet/emma moseley

eric johnson. photo by max crace.

eric johnson. photo by max crace.

Probably the most dazzling aspect of Eric Johnson’s solo acoustic performance at last night’s taping of the WoodSongs Old-Time Radio Hour at the Lyric Theatre and Cultural Arts Center was its overall lack of flash. An Austin, Tx. guitar giant known largely for blissed out, psychedelic departures from conventional Lone Star blues rock, Johnson focused largely on the unplugged material from his new “EJ” album. That meant finding a more compositional center to his song structure and a more fluid, streamlined guitar sound.

It also involved more folkish construction. Early Simon & Garfunkel proved a heavy inspiration. The duo’s work was addressed directly during a set opening cover of “Mrs. Robinson” that deconstructed the tune’s melody to the point that only fragments of the chorus were recognizable through all the harmonic mischief. Less obvious was the unrecorded original “Divanae” which was bolstered by shades of ‘60s-era British folk along with the stateliness of Paul Simon’s phrasing from the same period. “Once Upon a Time in Texas,” however, was likely more in line with what guitar aficionados in the crowd were anticipating. Despite an overall summery stride, the tune explored deeper percussive flourishes and greater tension within the composition’s artful but lyrical turns.

But this was by no means Johnson’s show exclusively. Also on the bill was the Gonzalo Bergara Quartet, a string band boasting an appealing infatuation with the gypsy jazz of Django Reinhardt – especially his Quintette du Hot Club de France-era music with Stephane Grappelli. That group was largely the model for an ensemble giddiness piloted as much by Houston/Austin violinist Leah Zeger as by Buenos Aires-born guitarist Bergara. While much of the set also covered material by The New Hot Club of America, a larger ensemble that includes Bergara and Zeger, several quartet-recorded works yielded the group’s most dramatic moments. Among the highlights: the mash-up of styles, tempo and harmony within “Nightmare No. 2” and the joyous Django drive and pizzicato playfulness of “December.”

Finally, there was an interlude by 16 year old guitar Emma Moseley, another Austin-ite, who offered instrumental variations within a Stevie Wonder medley (“Isn’t She Lovely” and “Superstition”) that were full of astonishing (and simultaneous) displays of rhythm and lead melodies. Mosley also tackled Tommy Emmanuel’s “Antonella’s Birthday,” revealing a level of dynamics, inward confidence and overall artistic maturity that proved remarkable for an artist so young.

 

in performance: bob dylan

bob dylan. photo by william claxton.

bob dylan. photo by william claxton.

As Bob Dylan croaked and crooned through a bewildering performance last night at the Kentucky Center for the Arts, it was difficult not to feel a sense of displacement. At heart, this was a rock show that overshadowed much of his famed folk pedigree. The songs, however, often sounded like they were musically and thematically caught in a time warp.

A fascinating but askew case in point came late in the 100 minute show with the fittingly titled “Long and Wasted Years.” One of four works pulled from 2012’s “Tempest” album (Dylan’s most recent recording of original compositions), it detailed a protagonist forsaken by love and family and, as a result, left to feel suitably scattered in a desert-esque purgatory. “Whadaya doin’ out there in the sun anyway?” sang Dylan, 75, with bemused, fractured glee. “Don’t you know the sun can burn your brains right out?”

It was a bit removed from the socially penetrating narratives that likely won Dylan the Nobel Prize in Literature this fall. Or was it? Earlier in the set, he ripped through the title song to 1965’s “Highway 61 Revisited” album, a work where everyone from Biblical sages to bluesmen to gamblers converged on a stretch of road running from Minnesota to Louisiana. A half-century on, even with the purposely scrambled version Dylan served up last night, the song constructs a Twilight Zone of sorts that assembles characters from varying times and circumstances.

In terms of repertoire, Dylan focused on either very early songs or very recent ones. That meant a three decade period (from roughly 1966 to 1996) was ignored, save for a coarse, melodically rewired reading of the “Blood on the Tracks” romantic meditation “Tangled Up in Blue.” None of that mattered, however, as pretty much everything sounded antique. The recent works from “Tempest,” together with the dark jubilee tune “High Water (for Charley Patton)” from 2001’s “Love and Theft,” harkened back to an almost minstrel minded era rooted in blues variations. Music from his newest recordings (2015’s “Shadows in the Night” and 2016’s “Fallen Angels”) were actually covers of Sinatra-era pop tunes. Finally, the early Dylan songs within the set, most of which were penned 50 or more years ago, were, by definition, of a different vintage.

The Sinatra-inspired material was the big curiosity as they reined in the corrosive wheeze that is Dylan’s usual weapon of vocal attack. No one is going to mistake him for ol’ Blue Eyes, mind you. But it was nonetheless intriguing to watch Dylan grab the microphone stand and lean to the side to play crooner on classics like “I Could Have Told You,” “All or Nothing at All” and, perhaps fittingly, “Autumn Leaves.” But in the hands of his band, particularly pedal steel guitarist and BR5-49 alumnus Donnie Herron, the tunes sounded less like pop relics and more like mystic prairie lullabies.

As for his own back catalog, Dylan has always considered it ripe for plundering. By playing piano for most of the performance with a suggestion of ragtime and barrelhouse color, Dylan awarded some of his more foreboding works – in particular, “Desolation Row” – a curiously hopeful glow.

But when the setlist turned to a “Tempest” tune like “Pay in Blood,” all bets were off. The sentiments went adrift again with a rhythmic drive as hardened and unforgiving as the lyrics. “I pay in blood,” Dylan sang, briefly breaking into a toothy grin. “But not my own.”

in performance: dierks bentley/randy houser/drake white and the big fire

dierks bentley.

dierks bentley.

“We’re a long way from The Dame,” remarked Dierks Bentley two songs in to his Rupp Arena return last night. From a literal standpoint, of course, the long demolished Main St. rock club located where the CentrePointe project now resides, was just a few blocks away from the cavernous Rupp. But The Dame was where Bentley essentially introduced himself to Lexington in 2004. So figuratively, the singer has indeed traveled far since then with a trio of possible wins at the annual Country Music Association Awards awaiting him next week.

The celebratory feel of last night’s Rupp outing – his fourth appearance at the venue, a stat he worked into a verse of the road anthem “Every Mile a Memory” late in the show – was mixed with a touch of honest gratitude for the venue, right down to a remark about the absence of Rupp’s famed “Big Bertha” speaker cluster. The good natured vibe carried over into the music, too, with a set launched by a pair organically designed, bluegrass-savvy works, “Up on the Ridge” and “Free and Easy (Down the Road I Go).”

The set quickly morphed into the kind of rockish drive indicative of contemporary inclined country with barroom themed works like “Am I the Only One,” anthemic pieces such as “Hold On” and every curiosities that included the title track to the singer’s recent “Black” album that matched Americana sentiment with the U2-like guitar chatter of Brownsville native Ben Helson.

But it was Bentley’s attitude that essentially sold the performance. The usual bro country machismo and modern country pandering were absent from the show. Instead, it relied on honest physicality, drive and musical gusto.

A similar sense of earnest cheer also pervaded the show-opening set by Drake White and the Big Fire. While some of their tunes tended to possess a shopworn country-rock feel, “That Don’t Cost a Dime” proved a novel stylistic mash-up of rural boogie, country swing and even reggae (via a chorus snippet of “Stir It Up”). Throughout, though, White’s vocals reflected a vintage swagger reminiscent of bands like Old Crow Medicine Show.

The antithesis of both Bentley and White was the artist sandwiched between them on last night’s bill, Randy Houser. A singer boasting a booming voice tailor made for arenas but little understanding of dynamics or artistic humility, Houser mistook vocal potency for artistic ingenuity. What resulted were bludgeoning performances of “Boots On” and “My Kind of Country” full of puffed up self-importance. Even the solo acoustic “Like a Cowboy” was a one man vocal stampede packaged with its own dramatic pause so the audience could bask in the strenuous feat that had just been executed.

The crowning touch to what may have been one of the more preposterous country performances to hit Rupp Arena in recent years, even more so than the video and lighting blitzkrieg that suggested Houser might have been imagining himself as headliner, was a bizarre remark the singer made following “How Country Feels” – specifically toward the hearty crowd adulation awarded to it.

“Well, that doesn’t suck at all.”

Sure, this was probably just a backhanded way of sounding appreciative. But one couldn’t help but imaging a different audience response fashioned as a response to such a classless quip.

“Wanna bet?”

 

in performance: john mellencamp/carlene carter

carlene carter and john mellencamp performing last night at the EKU center for the arts in richmond. herald-leader staff photo by mark cornelison.

carlene carter and john mellencamp performing last night at the EKU center for the arts in richmond. herald-leader staff photo by mark cornelison.

“Watch out for the creepers,” sang John Mellencamp last night at the onset of an efficient and entertaining performance at the EKU Center for the Arts in Richmond. The bemused warning, part of a hapless blast of modern day paranoia and mistrust called “Lawless Times,” signaled business as usual for the Indiana rocker. His singing voice may have changed a bit with a coarser delivery that was likely the by-product of age and tobacco. But the creakiness, along with the loose, roots-driven sound of an expert band, kept the hard times from hitting too close to home. In fact, Mellencamp made himself one of the tune’s unwitting victims. “If you want to steal this song,” he sang, “it can easily be loaded down.”

The program evolved into an appealing mix of songs new and old, familiar and obscure. “Lawless Times” was one of three tunes offered from Mellencamp’s 2014 album “Plain Spoken,” a record that colored the Americana-savvy narratives that have long been trademarks of his finer compositions with a leaner, blues-leaning sound. The highlight of the trio was “The Isolation of Mister,” a personal requiem where regret and loneliness out measured any pervasive sense of loss. “I thought happiness was a transgression,” Mellencamp sang with stoic solemnity. “I just took it as it came.”

There were also instances where the blues attitude won out, as in a version of the Robert Johnson classic “Stones in My Passway” (cut for Mellencamp’s 2003 covers album “Trouble No More”) that whittled singer and band down to a lean quartet. Curiously, as the economical roots music charge intensified, the vocals took on a near James Brown-level fervency.

The hit parade, of course, was what electrified the crowd. Patrons listened patiently as the more ragged extremes of Mellencamp’s singing triggered the very Tom Waits-like turns of “The Full Catastrophe” (a deep cut from 1996’s “Mr. Happy Go Lucky” album). But when a highly electric “Rain on the Scarecrow” revealed the full might of the band or when Mellencamp took on a solo acoustic reworking of “Jack and Diane,” the audience erupted.

The latter was performed with almost apologetic candor. “The only reason I still play this is because I know you guys want to hear it.” Playing is about all he did. Mellencamp sang a lead-in verse or two, but largely let the audience handle the vocal chores.

Some of the show’s older works have aged better than others. “Pop Singer” just needs to be jettisoned. It wasn’t that strong of a single when it hit radio in 1989. If there was any intended irony within the storyline (“Never wanted to be no pop singer”) it was lost years ago. If it was intended as something more matter-of-fact, then some explaining of the ticket prices – which topped out at over $200 – was in order. On the flip side, “Check It Out” remained every bit the effortless everyman anthem it was when the song was released in 1987, still bolstered by an Americana flair and a surprising lyrical hopefulness that have not dimmed.

The show-stealer, though, was another sleeper, “Longest Days.” The leadoff song from 2007’s T Bone Burnett-produced “Life, Death, Love and Freedom” album, it was introduced by a touching and quite humorous remembrance of Mellencamp’s late grandmother. The song itself was pure folk poetry written – and, curiously, sung – with the directness and simplicity of a John Prine chestnut.

As a bonus, the performance sported a 45 minute opening set by Carlene Carter. The singer’s career has shifted from post-punk pop (in the late ‘70s and ‘80s) to mainstream country (late ‘80s and ‘90s) to the roots-driven Americana of the Carter Family, of which she is a third generation member. While her stage persona was often the astonishing embodiment of her late mother, June Carter Cash, the unaccompanied set was an arresting blend of Carter Family faith (“The Storms are on the Ocean”), vintage originals reflecting a surprisingly deep vocal resonance (“Easy From Now On”) and learned folk expression (“Blackjack David”). She joined Mellencamp later it in the evening to preview tunes from a collaborative album due out next year. But it was on her own that Carter merged three distinct career chapters into a single, joyous set.

 

in performance: doyle bramhall II

doyle bramhall ii. photo by danny clinch.

doyle bramhall ii. photo by danny clinch.

“This is not the first barbeque joint I’ve played, coming from Texas,” said Doyle Bramhall II last night at Willie’s Locally Known. “But it is the best.”

Hopefully, someone at the Southland Drive music joint/barbeque hangout got a recording of that. It was the sort of soundbite that brings in customers. But for all the Lone Star heritage that ran through the guitarist’s veins – along with, in all likelihood, barbeque sauce – Bramhall’s tastefully scalding 95 minute performance steered clear of any expected exercises in Texas roots rock. It was instead a stripped down, internalized and heavily psychedelic variation of the music from his new “Rich Man” album.

So dedicated was Bramhall to the recording that he devoted all but three tunes last night to it, which meant the majority of the audience that packed Willie’s was likely experiencing music they didn’t know.

But from the show-opening strains of “My People,” such unfamiliarity proved a non-issue. Steeped in a Southern soul accent full of swampy solemnity, the tune, as was the case with much of the “Rich Man” material, simmered in a roots sound that took its time to grind out a groove before erupting with a guitar blast that was less in line with Texas blues-rock and more akin to the kind of dense, dark psychedelia fashioned by Traffic at the dawn of the 1970s.

Sure, the Southern slant of Bramhall’s soul sound possessed a warm cast at times, especially during “Keep You Dreamin,’” which became a funk treatise before Bramhall turned on the psychedelia via a solo that sounded like something his former employer, Eric Clapton, designed during his Cream years.

Similarly, covers of Johnny Guitar Watson’s “Lovin’ You” and Bill Withers’ “Better Off Dead” (the latter serving as an unassuming encore) detailed the brighter soul casts of Bramhall’s playing. But the mix of free jazz and Eastern fusion during “Saharan Crossing” and the suite-like construction of “The Samanas,” which began with sparse psychedelic ambience and concluded with pure rockish ensemble might, better reflected the palette of colors, moods and tempos that distinguished not only Bramhall’s remarkable musicianship but the rich, organic drive of music that prided itself on soaring outside of Texas tradition.

 

in performance: peter frampton

peter frampton.

peter frampton.

The idea of Peter Frampton performing a predominantly acoustic concert might not seem very novel at first. Lots of veteran rock artists whose careers capitalized on electric environments in arena settings opt for unplugged performances as their careers progress. They offer the chance to play more intimate venues, operate with smaller bands and (usually) smaller budgets and, if nothing else, engage new arrangements for hits played night after night, decade after decade.
Last night’s self-described “raw” performance by Frampton at the Opera House did all of that. The theatre confines and acoustic make-up let the longstanding British rocker design a program that allowed for considerable between-song discussions of the inspirations behind his compositions, like the family heirloom that triggered the idea for the title tune to his 2014 EP for the Cincinnati Ballet (“Hummingbird in a Box”) or an especially moving dedication to his patents that segued into a remembrance of longtime friend David Bowie – specifically, the latter’s invitation for Frampton to join his 1987 world tour, thus redefining him as a guitarist instead of a rock star (“Not Forgotten”). Similarly, there were moments when some of Frampton’s biggest hits were keenly reinvented, as in when he directed the Opera House audience to sing the famed talk-box medley to “Show Me the Way” and turned the set closing “Do You Feel Like We Do” into a sing-a-long that eventually erupted into an intriguing acoustic jam with guitarist/accompanist Gordon Kennedy.
But what was so surprising – and, ultimately, appealing – about the sprawling, 2 ½ performance was how comprehensive the repertoire was. All the expected “Frampton Comes Alive” hits were delivered, as was a show-closing encore of “I’m in You” (which is actually something of a rarity in his full band shows), which sent Frampton to an electric keyboard, marking the concert’s only non-acoustic moment. But with the familiar fare came loads of rarities that covered Frampton’s entire career.
From the early days was a playfully rhythmic revision of Buddy Holly’s “Heartbeat” which he first recorded in 1969 with Humble Pie. Helping out the song on harmony vocals was the guitarist’s son Julian Frampton, who also opened the evening with a half-hour set. Equally unanticipated was an encore medley of “You Had to be There” (penned for the 2000 “Almost Famous” soundtrack) and the title tune to one of Frampton’s most overlooked albums, 1980’s “Breaking All the Rules.” But the real surprise had to be “The Lodger,” a track from Frampton’s 1972 debut album “Wind of Change” that switched out the original version’s brassy instrumental coda for the show’s most dizzying guitar solo.
Finally, there was a hit that seems to have grown old gracefully with Frampton, 1973’s “Lines on My Face.” An inherently sad tune to begin with, last night’s version seemed like a requiem, a tale of loss balanced by almost sagely reflection. It was the evening’s truest example of how this acoustic incarnation of Frampton’s catalog sounded both invigorated and ageless.
dea of Peter Frampton performing a predominantly acoustic concert might not seem very novel at first. Lots of veteran rock artists whose careers capitalized on electric environments in arena settings opt for unplugged performances as their careers progress. They offer the chance to play more intimate venues, operate with smaller bands and (usually) smaller budgets and, if nothing else, engage new arrangements for hits played night after night, decade after decade.
Last night’s self-described “raw” performance by Frampton at the Opera House did all of that. The theatre confines and acoustic make-up let the longstanding British rocker design a program that allowed for considerable between-song discussions of the inspirations behind his compositions, like the family heirloom that triggered the idea for the title tune to his 2014 EP for the Cincinnati Ballet (“Hummingbird in a Box”) or an especially moving dedication to his patents that segued into a remembrance of longtime friend David Bowie – specifically, the latter’s invitation for Frampton to join his 1987 world tour, thus redefining him as a guitarist instead of a rock star (“Not Forgotten”). Similarly, there were moments when some of Frampton’s biggest hits were keenly reinvented, as in when he directed the Opera House audience to sing the famed talk-box medley to “Show Me the Way” and turned the set closing “Do You Feel Like We Do” into a sing-a-long that eventually erupted into an intriguing acoustic jam with guitarist/accompanist Gordon Kennedy.
But what was so surprising – and, ultimately, appealing – about the sprawling, 2 ½ performance was how comprehensive the repertoire was. All the expected “Frampton Comes Alive” hits were delivered, as was a show-closing encore of “I’m in You” (which is actually something of a rarity in his full band shows), which sent Frampton to an electric keyboard, marking the concert’s only non-acoustic moment. But with the familiar fare came loads of rarities that covered Frampton’s entire career.
From the early days was a playfully rhythmic revision of Buddy Holly’s “Heartbeat” which he first recorded in 1969 with Humble Pie. Helping out the song on harmony vocals was the guitarist’s son Julian Frampton, who also opened the evening with a half-hour set. Equally unanticipated was an encore medley of “You Had to be There” (penned for the 2000 “Almost Famous” soundtrack) and the title tune to one of Frampton’s most overlooked albums, 1980’s “Breaking All the Rules.” But the real surprise had to be “The Lodger,” a track from Frampton’s 1972 debut album “Wind of Change” that switched out the original version’s brassy instrumental coda for the show’s most dizzying guitar solo.
Finally, there was a hit that seems to have grown old gracefully with Frampton, 1973’s “Lines on My Face.” An inherently sad tune to begin with, last night’s version seemed like a requiem, a tale of loss balanced by almost sagely reflection. It was the evening’s truest example of how this acoustic incarnation of Frampton’s catalog sounded both invigorated and ageless.
sounded both invigorated and ageless.

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