Peter Frampton was sly and smiling. The audience loved him, they shouted frequently, and he was quick to tell them he loved them back.
“Thank you so much, good night, thank you,” he declared, grin on his face, two songs into his set. “Wow, you are hopped up.”
The crowd only screamed more.
The Frampton on stage – white T-shirt emblazoned with a skull, trim gray hair – looked different than the Frampton that intermittently flashed behind him, he of bare chests and flowing locks. But 50 years of playing can change a person, and Frampton – who dedicated the show to his bandmates over the years – joked that he, too, had been replaced by someone else.
Based on his performance Sunday night at Alpharetta’s Ameris Bank Amphitheatre, it’s doubtful. This Frampton had the same strong, clear voice as the original. He had the same energy. And he was having too much fun to be an imitator.
Frampton, 69, is midway through his Finale: The Farewell Tour. He’s saying goodbye because of a diagnosis of inclusion body myositis that will affect his nimble guitar playing, but there were no signs of trouble in the long riffs he traded with fellow guitar player Adam Lester on songs like “(I’ll Give You) Money.”
And there won’t be any shortage of Frampton, despite the break from travel. After the last tour, he and his band stopped to record a blues album and ended up with three more than that.
“I hope you like me,” he quipped. “There’s a few albums in the can.”
As if there was any doubt. If there was, it was quickly erased by the instrumental cover of “Georgia (On My Mind)” that’s on “All Blues,” the first album to be released. The crowd stood and roared at its conclusion, as Frampton raised his hands in victory.
He played his own standards too, of course, as part of a 16-song set. “Show Me the Way” (and the talk-box that became synonymous with him, and the song) came early in the evening, while “Baby, I Love Your Way” rocked the audience toward the end of the night. Frampton said he wrote both on the same day, after consuming Tylenol and Raisin Bran at the conclusion of a two-week bender that began when he ran into the singer Alvin Lee at the airport in the Bahamas. What was supposed to be a three-week writing retreat was condensed – but ultimately successful.
The stories came out on stage, but Frampton had more than just memories. He carried his history with him, in the form of the guitar that graced the cover of “Frampton Comes Alive!” and the drum kit he first bought for John Siomos, then repurchased when he saw it, years later, on eBay.
“It means so much to us,” he said of the instruments on the stage. “It’s just the little things.”
The night started with a different kind of history, as Jason Bonham’s Led Zeppelin Evening got the crowd roaring with its precise renditions of Zeppelin classics. Lead singer James Dylan wailed on songs like “Black Dog” and “Rock and Roll,” and a sea of flashlights filled the amphitheater as the opening strains of “Stairway to Heaven” wafted across the seats.
“If you need love, show love,” implored Bonham, the band’s drummer and son of Led Zeppelin drummer John Bonham.
But the night belonged to Frampton. In song after song and story after story, he demonstrated how happy he was to have the career he’s had. Before launching into a cover of Soundgarden’s “Black Hole Sun” – the instrumental album it’s on won him his only Grammy – he imitated conversations he had with members of the Rolling Stones as he convinced them to play on the album, and talked about the excitement he felt when the band The Shadows came on board.
“It doesn’t mean much to you, but it means the world to me,” Frampton said.
True for that moment, perhaps – but on the whole, Frampton fans understood what it meant to be recognized by someone they admired. He blew them kisses on Sunday, then later cupped his hand to his ear, egging them on as they cheered their acclamation.
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