CONCORD, Calif. — For the last show of a tour called Peter Frampton Finale — the Farewell, there wasn’t a lot of crying and saying goodbye Saturday night at the Concord Pavilion.
Oh, it was certainly implied. But there wasn’t any talk of why Frampton has to end more than five decades of rocking live venues like few others. Why ruin the mood? Everyone knew anyway and if Frampton was anything but happy-go-lucky and doing everything possible to make his audience feel at home … well, something would feel off.
The poster boy for what a 1970s mainstream lead guitarist should look and sound like wasn’t about to mess with the mood. He was energetic, his playing was fluid and powerful, and he sang like … Peter Frampton, for a little more than two hours.
The packed house knew it was a farewell tour from which there will be no comeback. Frampton announced in February he suffers from Inclusion-Body Mitosis, a progressive muscle disorder causing inflammation, weakness and atrophy. Among the symptoms is weakness in the wrists and fingers, as well as the front of the thigh and the muscles that lift the foot.
The 69-year-old musician was diagnosed four years earlier, after another four years of symptoms. Playing live got progressively difficult; he fell on stage at least twice. The Muscular Dystrophy Association says on its website that most people with the condition for 15 years “require assistance with basic daily routines, and some become wheelchair-bound or bedridden.”
Frampton told Rolling Stone in February it was possible he wouldn’t be able to play guitar a year later. So he immediately began recording new music and planning his last big U.S. tour.
The Bay Area, of course, is particularly special to Frampton. Not only was his breakthrough 1976 album, Frampton Comes Alive, mostly recorded at Winterland in San Francisco, it was at the Fillmore West in 1970 with Humble Pie that Frampton—troubled by a guitar squealing feedback at high volume during the first of two shows—obtained the modified, black 1954 Gibson Les Paul he played for most of the next decade, from a fan (the guitar on the cover of Frampton Comes Alive.) The guitar was believed destroyed in a 1980 plane crash, but survived to make it back into Frampton’s hands in 2011.
Looking thin, but happy, Frampton and his airtight band opened with “Baby (Somethin’s Happening),” kicking into comfortable cruise mode. If he’s on the verge on not being able to play, no one has told his hands. By third song “Lines on My Face,” Frampton was again demonstrating why he’s been one of consistently great live acts for so long, while deferring to those who helped along the way. He paid video tribute to bandmates from the ’70s who’ve passed on: Bob Mayo and John Siomos. The latter’s drum kit was in such bad shape when he joined the band that Frampton bought him a shiny new green set. Saturday he told a funny story of buying it back years later for more than he initially paid. That set was on stage at the Concord Pavilion.
Frampton rolled through “Show Me The Way” and “The Lodger,” about a fan showing up at his house during a late night rain storm and the artist inviting him in. Frampton is still a dynamic player, and his band was in lock-step with him, never obviously veering outside his wake.
Frampton came of age during the ’60s, first finding success as a 16-year-old with The Herd, then a couple years later in Humble Pie. English musicians were firmly rooted in the blues and had a wide repetoire of cover songs to prove it. Saturday, Frampton glided into Hoagy Carmichael’s “Georgia (On My Mind)” and Freddie King songs “Me and My Guitar” and “Same Old Blues.” The burst of blues allowed Frampton and his band to really stretch out. Between songs, he interacted with the crowd like an old friend, telling stories about the Rolling Stones and Chris Cornell, among others. He reprised his 2006 Grammy-winning cover of Soundgarden’s “Black Hole Sun,” which proved to be a big crowd favorite.
The best segment of the show followed, with Frampton and guitarist Adam Lester putting on a clinic for aspiring guitar duelists with “(I’ll Give You) Money” and a big-as-expected versions of “Baby, I Love Your Way” and “Do You Feel Like We Do?”
During the encore, he reached back to his Humble Pie roots for “Four Day Creep” and “I Don’t Need No Doctor,” before finishing with an appropriate cover of the Beatles “While My Guitar Gently Weeps.”
As joyful as Frampton was intent on keeping things, seeing him firing on all cylinders brought its own sadness. If he’s going out, he’s departing in great form. If he only has months until his playing slips away, at least he’s leaving as much on the stage as he can by celebrating with his fans.
Perhaps his legacy will live on in son Julian Frampton, whose band was met enthusiastically while opening the show, before another famous rock son brought Jason Bonham’s Led Zeppelin Evening to Concord. Bonham is a great drummer and his band paid powerful tribute to his late father John Bonham’s band.