That talkbox is here for tonight's gig at the Corn Exchange. The event, rather grandiosely titled "An Evening With Peter Frampton", is a sold-out, all-seater, three-hour marathon divided into two defined halves. The first half, celebrating the 35th anniversary of that aforementioned album, the one that Frampton jokingly refers to as "Me Comes Alive!", sees the band giving it a full airing. The second half, dedicated to Frampton's more recent work, includes material he's written for others and covers of songs that have inspired him.
Watching the lights dim, the large video screen at the back of the stage flood with simulated smoke and hearing the familiar recorded opening of roaring crowd burst forth from the monitors, is certainly enough to trigger off the nostalgia and a few goose bumps. The band shuffle into position and, finally, Frampton emerges with a mile-wide grin. They launch themselves straight into 'Something's Happening' and we're off. The five men, amongst them Sidney Sheldon, the album's original bassist, make a fine fist of picking their way through the order, track-by-track, note-for-note, beat-for-beat. "Hello Cambridge!", announces Frampton, before popping in the information that he has always supported the city in the Boat Race. The cheered response shows he's hitting the right notes even when he's not bending the strings.
The flowing locks and the slimline figure may be gone, as the awkwardly schmaltzy images flashing across the backdrop seem keen to highlight, but his honeyed vocal remains surprisingly undiminished. It's a soft, rich and faintly nasal Clapton-esque croon that yawns out from the back of his throat. When combined with his inspirational guitar technique, he is able to create a formidable sound. His touch, awareness and control of both tone and variation of string pressure is second to none. Every string bend, tremolo and slide is pinpoint and each finger movement is accompanied by a twist of both torso and face.
Through the funky shimmying of 'Doobie Wah' and the sweeping hit 'Show Me The Way', his pistoning knees propel him around the stage like a wobbling skittle that refuses to fall. The latter song takes him from the right to centre-stage where his talkbox is positioned and we get a full display of how his mouth shape and finger position dictate the robotic sound that emerges. Throughout the set, each guitar change brings with it a sidestep from clean and crisp into warm and tremulous. One particular highlight, 'Baby, I Love Your Way', brings the coy audience fully into play and 'Do You Feel Like We Do?' is a brilliant climax to the first half, inspiring both a guitar-battle with the increasingly-featured second guitarist and a refusal to perform the track's celebrated talkbox ending - "I don't have to do it tonight, do I?" he teases, shouting "Make me!" before, of course, he acquiesces.
Certainly, the monitors do play up momentarily, there's the occasional fluffed line, and there are a few sedentary pauses between songs whilst the band switch instruments and Frampton fires up the fans, but the gentle self-deprecation displayed by the man more than makes up for these misgivings.
After the interval, we get a good dousing of his latest album 'Thankyou Mr. Churchill' with the pacy 'Restraint' and the biographical 'Vaudeville Nanna And The Banjolele'. We're also treated to an appearance from his son, Julian, who is greeted by a coddling audience aah-ing. The hooded Frampton Junior responds by snarling back the loud rocker 'Road To The Sun', before a gaudily distracting backdrop. He cuts a menacing figure with his constantly flicked long-hair but it's mainly his formidable vocal that leaves many folks in shock.
With three barking instrumentals from the Grammy-winning 'Fingerprints' and a surprisingly caustic cover of Soundgarden's 'Black Hole Sun' it clearly defines Frampton Senior's decision to start mining a harder seam of rock. Of course, he pulls it back to something more palatable in the encore by sending us off singing his praises with a sublime rendition of George Harrison's 'Whilst My Guitar Gently Weeps'. Before a packed house, Frampton certainly came alive tonight.
Photograph courtesy of Stuart Hobden @ www.stuarthogbenphotography.
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