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Frampton's huge talent still shining

Thirty-five years ago, Peter Frampton released a live album, one that would come to define its era, at the same time making Frampton a massive star.

Tuesday, Frampton and his band threw a birthday party for that record, "Frampton Comes Alive," during which they played the whole double-album for a massive crowd.

What's changed in the interim? Gravity does what it does, of course, and Frampton's long hair and boyish good looks are a memory. Similarly, many members of the crowd could mark the passage of time between the first time they heard "Do You Feel Like We Do?" and the present day in wrinkles and gray hair. That aside, Frampton has lost nothing. He sings as well as he did when he was 35 years younger, and his brilliant guitar playing has, if anything, only improved with age.

That Frampton could play these songs he wrote as a young man with such utter conviction and emotional commitment today is a testament to their compositional power. The songs, and their composer, have aged awfully well.

Frampton and company took to the stage for their two-set show, intent on playing the whole "Frampton Comes Alive" album as their first set. Arrangements were expanded to include some seriously fiery jamming, particularly from Frampton, who followed a short acoustic set -- "Wind of Change," "Just the Time of Year," "Penny For Your Thoughts" and "All I Want to Be (Is By Your Side)" -- with an eloquent, lengthy solo during "I Wanna Go to the Sun." This became a recurring motif -- Frampton would play the song as written, then break into an expansion of the harmony on his trademark Gibson Les Paul. He is such a vastly undervalued guitarist, one whose jazz- and blues-inflected lines are among the most melodic and inventive in all of rock.

He proved as much again during "(I'll Give You) Money," and, of course, a tour de force take on the evergreen blues-jazz-rock blowout, "Do You Feel Like We Do," which found keyboardist Rob Arthur more than ably filling in for the late Frampton collaborator, Bob Mayo, with some seriously funky, jazz-based Fender Rhodes lines. Frampton went for broke here, playing a pair of elegant, virtuosic solos prior to breaking into a mid-song version of the famous talk-box solo which marked the massive mid-70s radio hit. The crowd went -- well, completely nuts, basically. It seemed like everyone was singing along, and near the front, the electric guitar enthusiasts drooled over Frampton's all-but-peerless playing.

A smoking ode to '70s excess came in the form of "White Sugar," which led rapidly into the inspired reworking of the Rolling Stones' "Jumpin' Jack Flash," which closed the first set to rapturous screams and hoots from the Artpark crowd.

After a 20-minute intermission, the band returned to perform a second set of newer songs. Though this music is obviously a bit less well-known, it is certainly representative of artistic growth on Frampton's part. Indeed, a more laid-back, jazz feel pervaded during Frampton's solos on pieces like the instrumental "Floating," and a pair of songs -- "Asleep At the Wheel" and "Restraint" -- from his most recent album, "Thank You, Mr. Churchill."

But Frampton played some older favorites as well, among them a full-frontal assault on the "Four Day Creep," a song he helped to make famous as guitarist with Humble Pie. A second, electric reading of "All I Want To Be (Is By Your Side)" made room for some more beautiful jazz-blues soloing. And an instrumental take on Soundgarden's "Black Hole Sun" was just plain stunning. Frampton came back for an encore of the blues chestnut, "Spoonful," performed solo on a screaming Les Paul, before going into a lengthy extrapolation of the Beatles' "While My Guitar Gently Weeps."

The performance was simply dripping with yearning, and not surprisingly, Frampton delivered yet another face-melting guitar solo.

It's about time we placed Frampton alongside his venerated peers -- Clapton, Page, Gilmour, et al. He is a hugely influential guitarist and songwriter, and his show on Tuesday celebrated that fact.

e-mail: jmiers@buffnews.com

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Peter Frampton    

Part of Tuesday in the Park concert series at the Artpark Outdoor Amphitheater, Lewiston.