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Frampton Alive with the Pops

Rick Bird
Posted: Jun 26, 2006 - 12:00:00 AM in reviews_2006

Peter Frampton
By Rick Bird - The Cincinnati Post
    At one point during his Riverbend concert with the Cincinnati Pops Orchestra Saturday night, Peter Frampton played conductor. No, not leading the orchestra, but the audience, waving his arms conducting a sing-a-long of his classic "Baby I Love Your Way."
    It was a Frampton love fest as the '70s guitar hero teamed up with the Pops to open the orchestra's 22nd season at its summer venue. It made for a thrilling evening with audience and performers alike mindful that risk-taking was in the air.
    It was the first time the Cincinnati Pops had played with such an edgy blues-rock guitarist and the first time Frampton's songs - many from his monster 1976 album "Frampton Comes Alive" - had received an orchestral treatment. They were arranged by Steven Reineke, who conducted Saturday.
    "Playing in your hometown is one thing," said Frampton, who lives in Indian Hill. "Playing with 64 of my newfound friends is something else."
    The set opened with Frampton's "Something's Happened" and a version of Stevie Wonder's "Signed, Sealed, Delivered." Both were solid bouncy openers, if perhaps formula treatments. By the third song - Frampton's ballad, "Lines on My Face" - the orchestral excitement finally kicked in as a true collaboration. Frampton's soaring guitar solos seamlessly meshed with the gorgeous string arrangements.
    Next, it was time for Frampton to get out his patented talk box where he sings through his guitar. And time for comic relief. As the infamous opening "wah-wah" lick on "Show Me the Way" began, a trumpet player brashly began playing the familiar melody, to the good-natured catcalls of the audience. Frampton stopped the song and admonished that, "Everyone thinks they can do the 'wah-wah' part."
    Yes, this was Frampton's night, showing why he captured rock arenas by storm in the '70s with his incredible blues-based guitar work. At 56, he's as sizzling a guitarist as ever and also showed his voice is still surprisingly strong.
    Frampton delved far back into his catalog with two songs from his 1972 solo debut, the acoustic-based "Oh, For Another Day" and the melancholy " Fig Tree Bay." He offered up two from his upcoming all-instrumental release, "Fingerprints" - a searing version of Soundgarden's "Black Hole Sun" (minus orchestra) and he debuted an original composition, "Float," one of the night's orchestral highlights. The dreamy, dark and ethereal piece was one of the best collaborations, with Frampton and the orchestra truly operating as one band.
    The set ended with a thunderous and mind-numbing "Do You Feel Like We Do" with the Pops rocking out with its own solo during the signature anthem.
    Through it all, the British-born rock star, who became a naturalized U.S. citizen in 2004, was amiable and self- deprecating, introducing one song as "something I think I did between the first and second world wars."
    Once settled in Frampton and his four-piece band seemed to be enjoying themselves as much as the audience, with Frampton saying, "Even for us, this is amazing to listen to these songs this way." And during "Show Me the Way," he sang, "I can't believe this is happening right here and now."
The encore tune was another highlight, "While My Guitar Gently Weeps," from Frampton's close friend, the late George Harrison. Rockers and orchestra soared with the song.
    Overall, the orchestral treatment of Frampton music had mixed results. The Pops' sound was at times muffled and fuzzy with sound system issues. Visually, the orchestra was somewhat annoyingly hidden behind a row of amps and a drum kit surrounded by Plexiglas.
    True collaborations can be tough in the often uneasy bonding of an orchestra with gritty rock. At times the Pops seemed a full band partner, at others more like it was just along for the ride. But in the end, it's hard to fault Frampton's sizzling playing or Reineke's inventive scoring and arrangements that brought new life to some of classic rock's most familiar anthems.
    The Pops opened the night with a British invasion themed set heavy on Beatles selections such as "Michelle," "Sergeant Pepper ..." and, the highlight, a robust percussion-dominated "Eleanor Rigby."

(first published in The Cincinnati Post June 26, 2007)