Of all the stars who’ve launched farewell tours as the sun sets on the golden age of rock ‘n’ roll, you’ll never see one who smiles like Peter Frampton.
At his farewell tour stop Saturday at Tampa’s MidFlorida Credit Union Amphitheater, the 69-year-old singer and guitarist grinned like a fool through each song and solo, flashing that same toothy smile from the gatefold of Frampton Comes Alive!. Even his guitar faces, the forced grimaces of each sustained note, blossomed into grins by the end. The dude is just that in love with his vintage black Gibson.
“Are you having fun yet?” Frampton asked the audience of thousands. “Aha-ha-ha! We are!”
Oh, they felt like he did, all right. Which was good, because the night could’ve gone another way.
Frampton this spring announced he’d been diagnosed with a rare degenerative muscular condition known as inclusion body myositis, which is slowly eroding his ability to play guitar. That, of course, is a major part of what makes Frampton, Frampton; his signature talk box technique is a big reason Frampton Comes Alive! is one of rock’s iconic live albums.
But take comfort in the fact that Frampton’s getting his licks in while he can. For more than two hours, he crooned out his biggest hits in his signature toasty tenor, while giggling through tales from his half-century in rock and delivering some epic, standing-O-worthy solos.
Some of those, as expected, came during singles like Show Me the Way, complete with a talk-boxed “Hello, people from Tampa!” Couples got up and started swaying on Baby, I Love Your Way, and when he sang, “So many people, my family of friends,” on Lines on My Face, people felt that.
But the show’s real highlights came anytime Frampton dry-docked the yacht rock and let his road engines roar.
On Georgia On My Mind, from his new album All Blues, he said he wasn’t going to compete with Ray Charles — and he didn’t, ditching the mic and turning the standard into one long screaming guitar solo. He did almost the same thing covering Soundgarden’s Black Hole Sun, snarling out licks approximating Chris Cornell’s wail before turning to the talk box for the final, alien chorus. And toward the end, he boomed through a couple of raucous, randy numbers from his Humble Pie days, Four Day Creep and I Don’t Need No Doctor, that swaggered like leather on denim.
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The night had its retrospective moments, like the cavalcade of photos splashed across the screen — young Peter; Peter from his days with Humble Pie and David Bowie; Peter the shaggy, smiling goofball from Frampton Comes Alive!. He relished reminiscing on his earliest recording days; about playing with the Stones and the Shadows; about writing Show Me the Way and Baby, I Love Your Way on a single day in the Bahamas.
But what might get obscured amid all those memories is the fact that, from all appearances, Frampton’s still trying to make more of them. Not just by touring and recording before his illness takes him over, but by living in the moment with his band, trading slobber-knocking solos with fellow guitarist Adam Lester on the monstrous (I’ll Give You) Money, or going full noodle with keyboardist Rob Arthur on Do You Feel Like We Do. It was a total jam up there, with Frampton and company going long on song after song, wringing everything they could out of every bar and breakdown.
Maybe this won’t be the last we see of Frampton in Florida; he could very well pop up at a festival or something down the road. As long as his body holds up, he’s got the chops and more than enough enthusiasm.
But if the clock’s really ticking, at least he’s going out his way. The only time he brought up his illness was at the very end of the night, after a closing cover of the Beatles’ While My Guitar Gently Weeps.
“I just have to tell you that, here this evening, I just have felt all this love and encouragement coming my way,” he said. “I know you know I have some health issues, and I’ve tried my best here. I just want to tell you, I love you guys. Thank you so much. I’m just going to wave, all right? You’re the best. I love you, Tampa.”
If that’s the note Frampton leaves on, it was a good one. He went out smiling. And he wasn’t alone.