Peter Frampton bids heartfelt farewell to Pittsburgh
Farewell tours are all the rage in the pop music world these days as aging rock musicians try to squeeze every dollar they can from new audiences excited about their music, or old ones who have never tired of it.
Kiss, The Who (both of whom played PPG Paints Arena this spring), Elton John, Ozzy Osbourne and Peter Frampton, among others, have all said they are playing their final concerts in the next year or so.
But while there seems to be some reason to question the sincerity of the others with regard to calling it quits, there isn’t much doubt that this is sadly the end of the road for Frampton, who took what appeared to be his final bow in Pittsburgh following a spirited show, part of the Peter Frampton Finale-The Farewell Tour, at the Benedum Center on Tuesday night.
One of rock’s great guitarists, Frampton has been diagnosed with the degenerative muscle disease Inclusion-Body Myositis (IBM). It has severely affected his legs and arms and, he has been told by doctors, it will eventually affect his fingers and restrict his ability to play the guitar, on which he has built a body of work few musicians can match.
“In a year’s time, I might not be able to play,” Frampton told Rolling Stone in a February interview. “Right now, it’s progressing but I’m still at the top of my game. We decided to do a farewell tour now since I don’t want to go out and not be able to play well.”
Yes, Frampton is still at the top of his game when it comes to playing the guitar. He certainly proved that Tuesday night. And he says the disease does not have any impact on his singing voice, which sounded as good as ever, still possessing the power and pitch of his prime. Four songs in, as he sang “Show Me The Way,” his fans could have closed their eyes and floated back to the summer of 1976 when Frampton had a lion’s mane of golden hair instead of a head that is now bald at 69 years of age.
His self-deprecating humor intact, Frampton joked that he wakes up and screams when he looks in the mirror. He still has that same warm smile though and flashed it often.
“It’s good to be in the ’Burgh,” he said after a high-energy rendition of his hit cover version of “Signed, Sealed, Delivered I’m Yours,” the second song of the evening after opening with “Baby (Somethin’s Happening).” There was no opening act.
This was Frampton’s first appearance in Pittsburgh since an acoustic show in 2015 at the Carnegie of Homestead Music Hall. But a lot of the fans who showed up Tuesday night were old enough to remember when Frampton came to Three Rivers Stadium on August 14, 1976, at the height of his super stardom. “Frampton Comes Alive!” was the biggest album on the planet and songs like “Do You Feel Like We Do” and “Baby, I Love Your Way” were getting played on the radio constantly.
Tuesday night’s virtually sold-out concert was tinged with nostalgia from the beginning when a montage of old photos and video clips were shown on a large screen at the back of the stage. Frampton then entered to thunderous applause and shaded his eyes to stare out at the Benedum crowd and take it all in. “This is a very nice place,” he said of the venue.
He spoke quite a bit about his life and inspirations. He also took time to pay tribute to musicians who played on “Frampton Comes Alive!” who have passed away, including Bob Mayo, whom he famously mentioned after his standout keyboard solo on the live recording of “Do You Feel Like We Do.”
But Frampton didn’t want to dwell completely on the past. After all, he has a new album called “All Blues,” which has been at No. 1 on Billboard’s Blues Albums chart for the last three weeks. So, in the middle of his set, he played three straight songs from “All Blues” that were a revelation for those whose knowledge of Frampton is limited to his classic rock hits.
Frampton began the trio of tunes with a cover of “Georgia on My Mind,” sans vocals, that would have made Hoagy Carmichael proud. He followed that with a soulful cover of Freddie King’s “Me and My Guitar” and then a beautifully crafted “Same Old Blues” on acoustic guitar.
He kept the acoustic out for a couple more numbers including “All I Wanna Be (Is by Your Side)” and then it was back to the full force of the Peter Frampton Band, a skilled and tight group that includes Adam Lester on guitar, Rob Arthur on the keys, Steve Mackey on bass and Dan Wojciechowski on drums.
There was a cool cover of Soundgarden’s “Black Hole Sun” that sounded better than the original. (Frampton dedicated it to his good friend, the late Chris Cornell). Then the group launched into three of the songs the crowd came to hear.
“(I’ll Give You) Money” featured a compelling call and response, back and forth double guitar solo between Frampton and Lester.
Before singing “Baby I Love Your Way,” Frampton shared a story about having three weeks to write what became his fourth studio album, “Frampton,” released in 1975 before he went on tour and recorded “Frampton Comes Alive!” He went to the Bahamas and spent the first two weeks partying to the point that he still can’t remember exactly what happened during those 13 days.
He said that with a week left, he decided he better get to work and wrote the entire album, including “Baby I Love Your Way,” in eight days.
Frampton, strumming the original guitar he used on his signature track, then brought the house down with “Do You Feel Like We Do.” He encouraged the audience to sing the refrain and featured Arthur ably putting his own jazzy spin on Mayo’s keyboard solo. Frampton even incorporated a staccato “Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania” mention into his famous talk box interlude on the song.
When he came out for his encore, Frampton made reference to his ordeal with Inclusion-Body Myositis.
“I have received so much love on the internet and now I’m feeling it here,” he said.
His grand finale was appropriately a cover of the Beatles’ “While My Guitar Gently Weeps.” When the song ended, Frampton held up his hand and looked out at the crowd with moist eyes. “I’m not going to say goodbye,” he said.
But everyone knew he just had.
Paul Guggenheimer is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Paul at 724-226-7706 or [email protected].