I wasn't quite sure what to expect from a bunch of nearly 60 year-old rockers playing on a makeshift stage on the Pomona fairgrounds horse racing track, but I was very pleasantly surprised by the quality of this B-list show. A lot has changed since the 70's, but the music and musicianship keep getting better.
Confessional: I never owned Frampton Comes Alive. As an 11 year-old, I thought he appealed more to the girls. So I stuck with Styx, Cheap Trick, ELO, and the Steve Miller Band. But getting Kansas' double-album Two for the Show was one of the highlights of my 13th Christmas. So although they were the opening band, I was more looking forward to seeing them than Peter Frampton. I figured I would sit through the headliner for "the experience" and for my wife's benefit. But I had a lot to learn.
Being part of the Los Angeles County Fair's "End of Summer" concert series, this show started right on time at 7:30pm. Apparently, the goal is to get the audience in and out of the concert in an efficient manner, so that they can spend more time and money at the fair. Thankfully, I had previous experience with fair concerts, so we were in our seats just before Kansas took the stage.
I did not get a full set list for Kansas, because some of the songs they played were more obscure. This is, after all, a band celebrating 35 years in existence. The show opened with a violin solo by David Ragsdale from a song that I was not familiar with, but it set the stage for the entire Kansas experience. Original drummer Phil Ehart still played with enthusiasm using a double bass drum kit. Rich Williams wore an eye patch and was not very animated on stage, but he played the guitar admirably. For some songs, he played an acoustic guitar placed on a stand, so that he could continue to wear his electric guitar around his neck. Lead vocalist Steve Walsh looked fit and trim for a 59 year-old and his voice is still strong and piercing after all these years. He continues to wear the long hair of that bygone era of the 70's. They also still used a smoke machine, which gave the show a kind of "retro" vibe for me.
Kansas' Set List unknown Point of Know Return Sparks of the Tempest Hold On Dust in the Wind Down the Road unknown Fight Fire with Fire Carry On Wayward Son
I enjoyed Kansas' set and was impressed with the quality of the musicianship. They didn't do a lot of jumping around on stage, but the sound was great. Carry on Wayward Son has to be one of the best rock anthems of all time. It was a fantastic ending to a very solid set. While the crowd was fairly subdued for most of the songs, this finale really brought them to their feet. Having bought my tickets for $18.50 apiece (including fees) from Goldstar, I was completely satisfied with my purchase. Anything positive provided by Peter Frampton was just going to be gravy at this point.
Kansas left the stage (without an encore) and entered a waiting mobile home to be whisked away from the race track. The stage crew loaded their equipment into a rental truck at the side of the stage and set up Peter Frampton's equipment. His stage configuration was quite different. The drummer was tucked behind a row of guitar amplifiers in the center of the stage. It was clear one person was going to be front and center in the next set. When the mobile home returned down the dirt track, we knew that Frampton was about to come alive.
The Peter Frampton that I remembered from childhood was bare-chested with long, flowing golden locks, but this Peter Frampton looked nothing like that. He was almost preppy in a white shirt and had close cropped silver hair. So I was a bit taken aback by his appearance. Unlike Kansas, he was much more interactive with the audience. He was jovial and chatted up the crowd. Despite the antics between songs, Peter was very serious about his craft. The set was very tight and the band obviously was not playing together for the first time. Bassist John Regan was celebrating 30 years playing in Frampton's band. I have never been a huge fan of keyboards in rock bands, but Rob Arthur really won me over. He had some great solos and his sound meshed really well the guitars (Frampton and Adam Lester). Although I wasn't expecting much, I really enjoyed the set below:
Peter Frampton's Set List Shotgun Signed, Sealed, and Delivered, I'm Yours Lines on My Face Show Me the Way Boot It Up Thank You Mr. Churchill Black Hole Sun Baby, I Love Your Way (I'll Give You) Money Do You Feel Like We Do --------------------------------- Road to the Sun I Want It Bad
They started out with two cover songs, which makes it much easier for new "fans" to feel comfortable. Although these were not typical "arena rock" songs, Frampton played them in his own style and really made them his own.
Before the third song, he had quite an extensive discussion about what he would be playing. A crowd like this always wants to hear the hits, whereas the artists usually want to play their latest stuff. So he said he was going to play something off of his latest release, which was in fact a re-release of Frampton Comes Alive in vinyl. So he seemed to get of kick out of making that joke. After playing two songs from this classic album, he played an instrumental song (Boot It Up) from his Grammy award-winning album Fingerprints. I had never heard this song before, but I really liked it. He is not a musician that is resting on his laurels and just paying the bills by rehashing his hits from an earlier day. He is still actively growing and creating as an artist.
Then next song, Thank You, Mr. Churchill, was from a work-in-progress CD scheduled for a March 2010 release. Although I was completely unfamiliar with the song, it definitely fit in with the set of music he was playing and seemed to be of similar quality. I was again surprised to hear a cover of Soundgarden's Black Hole Sun next. It turns out this song was also on the Fingerprints album, which I am now very tempted to pick up. He does a largely instrumental version, but uses the talk box at the end of the song. As with the other covers, Frampton took this familiar song and made it his own using his particular styling.
By this point in the show, I was completely won over. What was I thinking all these years? Was I some kid afraid of cooties? This guy can really play. He is not some teen heartthrob going through the motions. I was now enjoying Peter Frampton much more than Kansas!
He finished with three more songs from Frampton Comes Alive. I was, of course, familiar with these songs from the radio, so I already felt like a fan. Do You Feel Like We Do is a crowd favorite and for good reason. It has all the elements that make for Peter Frampton's unique sound: improvisation, playfulness, jamming, talk box, and great guitar solos. The crowd was going crazy by the time this 20 minute piece concluded.
Unlike Kansas, Frampton was given time to do an encore. The first song was quite interesting, in that he introduced someone that he "produced" 21 years earlier as the guest lead singer, his son Julian Frampton. The song, Road to the Sun, was from the upcoming CD as well. I thought it was cool to see father and son creating music together. Julian is a powerful singer and has the long hair and slim build of his father's earlier days. The final song I was completely unfamiliar with (I may not even have gotten the title correct in the set list), but at this point it didn't matter. The encore was a bit of a denouement compared with the previous three songs. No matter.
This was a great show. Sometimes the old guys will surprise you. Not everyone on the "has been" circuit really deserves to be placed in that category. Kansas may not be doing much new these days, but they definitely can still play. Peter Frampton, on the other hand, seems to have become better with age.
[This is the second in a series of mid-life crisis concert reviews. You can find the first here.]
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