Date: September 11th, 2019
Opening Band: Jason Bonham’s Led Zeppelin Experience
Peter Frampton has a degenerative disease called inclusion-body myositis, and thus, unlike many other “farewell” tours, it is highly likely that the English-born guitar virtuoso’s current trip around the globe will almost certainly be his last. (Neil Diamond, who suffers from Parkinson’s, also retired from touring last year.)
However, whatever problems the muscular condition might exhibit as the musician closes out his seventh decade next April, absolutely none of it was in evidence at his show at the Anthem in Washington, D.C., Wednesday evening.
Far, far from it.
The evening kicked out with opener Jason Bonham’s Led Zeppelin Experience running through some of the greatest hits of Led’s career. Bonham is, of course, the son of late Led Zeppelin drummer John Bonham, who died in 1980 at the age of 32. Jason Bonham is now 53, and thus has been playing the Zeppelin catalogue for more years than his father was ever alive, and the evidence of his virtuosity with the material is clearly in evidence. While Bonham spoke to the audience a few times from his percussion setup, the lion’s share of “approximating” the Zeppelin material fell on the shoulders of vocalist James Dylan, who does a yeoman’s job of channeling those high notes of Robert Plant. Tony Catania ably fills in for Jimmy Page on lead guitar, and the 45-minute run of Zeppelin hits—culminating, as it must, in “Stairway to Heaven”—was enlivening, even if you can never quite forget that you are basically watching the world’s most able-bodied tribute band.
Following a change of stage setup, a montage of the evening’s headliner shown on a video screen—of a young English boy coming up through the ranks to become a phenom by his teens, followed by photos of Frampton with the Stones, David Bowie (his former classmate) and many others.
Lights up, and Frampton’s four-piece ensemble (the same number as Bonham prior to him) came to the Anthem’s stage, with the frontman himself, dressed in a simple black T-shirt and jeans, flashing that ever-present winning smile and waving to the cheering fans. It was right off to “Something’s Happening,” which any self-respecting fan of the guitarist would recognize as the first track on the seminal “Frampton Comes Alive” album. He made you feel that you too were perhaps present for that classic album’s live recording in San Francisco in 1975.
Frampton said hello to the crowd after that groovy opening salvo, and declared that the show—the tour is called “FINALE—the Farewell Tour”—would be a look back through his decades in rock, with some surprises tossed in for good measure. What those bombshells might be wasn’t even hinted at, as Frampton and crew kept the crowd happy with “Lines on My Face” and “Show Me,” both from “Frampton Comes Alive” as well.
Lest anyone forget, Frampton is a student of the blues, and proved his weight in golden interpretation of that rock n’ roll forebear on “Fig Tree Bay” and a rather funky, and instrumental, version of “Georgia,” which surely would make Ray Charles smile down from above—especially when Frampton used the talk box near its conclusion.
Frampton took several in-between-song breaks to share stories; he didn’t seem in any hurry to get to the punchlines of his anecdotes, and perhaps that’s why his speeches were frequented with “um” and “uh.” It was actually strangely charming, as if he were sharing these stories for the first time, even though this was the 36th date on this tour.
One of his better stories involved being taken under the wing of original Rolling Stones bassist Bill Wyman, with whom he has remained close long after the latter left the Stones for a quiet life after the “Steel Wheels” tour. Frampton related how, for his 2006 instrumental album “Fingerprints,” he called up Wyman to play bass on the song “Cornerstones”—and also asked his friend if maybe, just maybe, he might get Charlie Watts to join in on drums as well.
Miming a phone receiver, Frampton then channeled the notoriously mumbly Watts: “Peter, it’s Charlie. I’ll do it.”
(It was all Frampton could do to not resist sharing with the Anthem crowd that “Fingerprints” won a Grammy for best pop instrumental album, which was his first ever such award.)
Frampton then shared that he had enjoyed a rather intense friendship with the late Chris Cornell, whose composition “Black Hole Sun” was also part of the “Fingerprints” album. Frampton then played that early-’90s Soundgarden staple, with he and fellow guitarist Adam Lester absolutely killing it at center stage by trading off shreds for minutes on end. As the song ended, the screen behind the band lit up with a picture of Cornell, who committed suicide in 2017 at the age of 52.
Then it was on to “Money,” another well-known song from “Frampton Comes Alive,” the cover artwork of which—featuring a much-younger Frampton—was projected up behind the now-69-year-old guitarist and his band. Once again, Frampton and Lester shredded like there was no tomorrow during the sections without words.
Taking a break yet again, Frampton told of spending some time in the Bahamas years ago, during which he came up with a simple melody that he thought, well, might be something. After tinkering with it, he quickly came up with the lyrics for what would become “Baby I Love Your Way.” Frampton allowed the audience to sing a good portion of the rather familiar chorus with him.
After taking in the applause for “Baby,” Frampton then hit those all-too-familiar opening notes of “Do You Feel Like You Do,” the nearly 20-minute rock symphony that is a prerequisite of his show. We’ve heard the “Alive” version so many times that it’s incumbent to make it different, something entirely new, each time it is performed yet again. Frampton & Co. did just that, with the breakdown filled not only with the familiar electronic talk box putting in its necessary appearance, but virtuosic soloing by Frampton and Lester, with the band leader also ensuring that bassist Steve Mackey, keyboard player Rob Arthur and drummer Dan Wojciechowski all got their time to shine in the limelight.
It’s a glorious thing to be in the midst of “Do You,” and I didn’t want it to end. Frampton and his bandmates took a bow and retreated to the wings, but there was more to come.
The ax-slinger soon enough returned and asked, “How about some Humble Pie?” referencing the British band he once was a part of in the ‘60s and ‘70s. Keyboardist Arthur absolutely killed the lead vocals on “Four Day Creep,” with Frampton only stepping to the mic occasionally to sing.
The next song was “I Don’t Need a Doctor,” and it was at this rather apropos point that Frampton made his first—and only—reference to his health issues. He thanked the fans, both gathered and around the world, for their kind thoughts of healing and said that he aims to continue playing with the same joy and verve for as long as he can.
Ergo, he don’t need no stinkin’ doctor!
One song more, but before proceeding, Frampton acknowledged that it was indeed the 11th of September. With tenderness and genuine appreciation, he said that on Sept. 12, 2001, he phoned up his immigration lawyer saying that, after living in America for most of his adult life, he wanted to become a full citizen. Touting his adopted home then, Frampton paid special tribute to all of the victims—and the enduring memory of wounds—of 9/11 with a bluesy version of the Beatles’ “While My Guitar Gently Weeps.”
After his guitar tech took away his instrument, the musician made continual gestures of thanks to the Anthem fans and waved, again smiling good-naturedly. Whether this is the last time we see him playing live or not, Frampton has given us decades of stellar rock, and has always done it with no small bit of humility and joy.
Here’s to your health, good sir.