It was just two days past that we were at the Hollywood Bowl. Then, we saw Soundgarden and Nine Inch Nails bring as much rock, bombast and technical wizardry to the stage as any act has at this venue in a long time. Would it surprise you to learn that just two days later that we have now heard another band play “Black Hole Sun” at the Hollywood Bowl? Yup. It happened. This time it was not a related heavyweight of the 90s alternative/grunge era though. This time it was Peter Frampton.
On a bill dubbed Frampton’s Guitar Circus, the champion of 70s mega rock himself Peter Frampton graced the stage with a solid crew of varied guests, each bringing a dynamic and fresh approach to the six-string guitar, almost a how-to guide on how to molest, manipulate and fully take advantage of the instrument. This was one for true guitar dorks and classic rock aficionados. For those ingrained in that ethos, this event would have seemed like pure heaven. For those subscribing to other sonic preferences, this might have seemed a bit indulgent. But, let’s face it. You woudn’t be at this event unless you truly wanted to watch someone take a guitar to the limit of what it’s capable of right?
First up was a literal living legend, Buddy Guy. Most out there wouldn’t know Buddy Guy by specific hit singles, but more by reputation. Guy has been playing, singing and beating the road down for nearly 50 years without fail. Guy is famous as much for his own technical ability, as the litany of famous axemen he’s influenced. Unlike B.B. King (who we saw on the same stage not that long ago) who has a more patient and soulful delivery in the twilight of his years, Guy is a driven firecracker. Imagine the searing authenticity that Charles Bradley brings to vocals coupled with Stevie Ray Vaughn’s technical skill and you have some sense of what you’re in for. Guy took to the stage and exploded into “Damn Right, I’ve Got the Blues,” layering on distorted licks in frantic yet precision patterns. Guy howled each line with a raspy wail.
Before hopping into Eddie Boyd’s “Five Long Years,” he quipped to the crowd that if they kept their positive reaction that, “I might play something so funky you can smell it.” “Five Long Years” became a multi-bridged affair, Guy alternating between monstrous dances up and down the fretboard and delicate bended notes. The calls of, “Lord, I work five long years for one woman / And she had the nerve to kick me out,” prompted loud hoots and hollers from the crowd. Along with a snippet of Billy Boy Arnold’s “Dirthy Mother Fuyer,” he continued with the hysterical “Someone Else is Steppin’ In (Slippin’ Out, Slippin’ In)” in which the refrain, “While you were sneaking out / someone else was sneaking in,” became a full-on call for audience participation. The set concluded all too short with “74 Years Young” a chant celebrating his own relentless vitality (updated for his current age of 78) and a short revision of Cream’s “Sunshine of Your Love.”
After a short intermission, Peter Frampton’s headlining set followed. For the Frampton’s Guitar Circus portion of the evening, the British-born guitarist wisely balanced his greatest, most beloved hits with stellar guests throughout. Numerous tracks from his landmark Frampton Comes Alive! double live album were drawn out in full for the excited crowd on hand including “Doobie Wah,” “Lines on My Face,” “Show Me the Way,” “(I’ll Give You) Money,” “Baby, I Love Your Way” and the seminal “Do You Feel Like We Do.” Frampton now over forty years in the business dialed up the distortion for the majority of the song’s solos, edging “Had To Be There” and “Doobie Wah” to razor sharp hard rock. The set’s first guess Robert Randolph joined center stage with his trademark pedal steel for a meaty rendition of Incredible Hog’s “Goin’ Down.”
Shortly thereafter, Los Lobos’ David Hidalgo joined for a rousing rendition of his band’s “Mas y Mas.” This might have been the single most impressive addition to the latter set, as Hidalgo’s skill was almost exactly on par with Frampton’s and hearing them trade solos on the song’s bridge was supremely impressive. Things took a left turn right thereafter though, as Frampton stated, “Here’s a song I heard Chris Cornell sing once,” launching into Soundgarden’s “Black Hole Sun,” apparently not aware that the band had played this very stage and played the same song there not two days ago. Frampton’s rendition was mostly instrumental, vocals only coming in during the final chorus via use of his oft-used trick the talkbox-guitar combo. Somehow, Frampton’s band managed to capture the rotovibe-effected guitar melody almost better than Soundgarden did two days back.
The most crowd-pleasing moment followed as Randy Bachman of Bachman Turner Overdrive came out for the party anthem “Taking Care of Business.” The set ended appropriately with Frampton’s most famous ballad “Baby, I Love Your Way” and the escalating “Do You Feel Like We Do.” On the former his vocals sounded a little horse for the chorus’ falsetto (but the crowd didn’t mind hanging on every word of the chorus) and on the latter the talkbox trick was used for maximum effect, bringing home the night on an appropriately epic note. The night’s one encore featured the return of Buddy Guy for the Beatles classic “While My Guitar Gently Weeps.” During the song’s finale Guy and Frampton traded solos face-to-face playing off each other’s escalating licks. There’s something to this as a format, and for those that love making an annual tradition of this template featuring different guitar greats each time. We’ll let you ponder how great this could be with guests like Joe Satriani, Jack White or Derek Trucks.