Review by Shawn Perry
In 1976, I saw Peter Frampton and Yes together (along with Gentle Giant and Gary Wright) at Anaheim Stadium. In 2010, Frampton and Yes reunited for a joint tour, and I caught their gig at the Greek Theatre in Los Angeles. In 2011, Frampton and Yes returned to the Greek, this time headlining their own respective gigs a mere three days apart. It’s almost like Yes and Frampton are joined at the hip and aligned in the universe when it comes to touring. Musically, of course, they are worlds apart. And that’s what makes it all the more significant.
Frampton packed the Greek on a cool, crisp Saturday night and played for almost three hours. The first set covered the entire Frampton Comes Alive album, plus a few additional tracks left off the original record but added to the 25th anniversary double-disc set from 2001. The band — bassist Stanley Sheldon (who played on Frampton Comes Alive), guitarist Adam Lester, keyboardist and guitarist Rob Arthur and drummer Dan Wojciechowski — played each and every part to perfection. And the man himself, grayer without the mop of hair that landed him on multiple magazine covers, is as sharp vocally and on the guitar as ever.
Frampton, dressed in a light black jacket over a blue-T-shirt and a dangling thin scarf, multi-tasked — directing the band, taking the solos, breathing heavily into his talkbox and getting laughs from his in-between-song commentaries (those acting chops come in handy). By the time he went into the jazzy strains of “Lines On My Face,” the jacket had come off and it was apparent Frampton and his band were settling in for a long run.
“In 1975, I released a single…and nothing happened,” Frampton recounted. “A year later, we released again, only live and then it went…” and like, “Show Me The Way” greeted the audience like a lost ray of sunshine. While Frampton strummed his acoustic during “Wind Of Change,” photos of Bob Mayo, the keyboardist who played on Frampton Comes Alive popped up on the LED screen behind the backline. Mayo died of a sudden heart attack while touring with Frampton in 2004. “I wasn’t going to do this one,” the guitarist remarked beforehand.
Along with the full album, Frampton added three tracks that appeared on the 25th Anniversary deluxe version of Frampton Comes Alive — “Just the Time Of The Year,” “Nowhere's Too Far For My Baby” and “White Sugar.” Thyen, after he did his due diligence by telling the audience the deluxe edition was for sale at the concession stand, Frampton added, “I don’t mind you tweeting as long as you’re tweeting about me…”
The band really stretched out on some of the heavier numbers like “I Wanna Go To The Sun” and “(I'll Give You) Money.” Just before starting the climatic “Do You Feel Like We Do,” a Simpsonized version of Frampton came up on the LED. “That’s the cartoon me,” he quipped.
A burning take of the Humble Pie classic, “Shine On,” gave way to the final bonus track (“White Sugar”) of the evening, followed closely by “Jumpin’ Jack Flash,” the final track of the first set. For many, that may have been it. Random nostalgia buffs who hadn’t followed Frampton since the 70s were heard to comment: “What else could he possibly do?” For the curious and diehards, the second set was really more about where Frampton is today.
He started with “Asleep At The Wheel,” a mid-tempo romp from the 2010 album, Thank You Mr. Churchill. He also indulged himself and the musicians in the audience with three captivating instrumentals — “Float,” “Boot It Up” and “Double Nickels” from his Grammy-winning, 2006 album Fingerprints. Playing up until the 11:00 curfew, Frampton rounded the corner with a quick run-through of “Road To The Sun,” featuring his son Julian on vocals, along with a second Humble Pie classic, the ever glorious “Four Day Creep.” The night was closed out with a stunning instrumental version of Soundgarden’s “Black Hole Sun,” also from Fingerprints.
The following Tuesday, it was back to the Greek Theatre for Yes with Styx. In a lot of people’s minds, this is some kind of dream “progressive rock” double-bill, but I'm not so sure. For what little progressive roots Styx have, they don’t go very deep. They do, however, have more hits and a more evenly dispersed female-to-male fanbase. Which is why, by the end of the night, it was clear they were the band more people had come to see. (All the more remarkable is that Styx plays the L.A. area, it seems, at least every three or four months)
After a short solo acoustic set from L.A.-based singer-songwriter Shane Alexander, Styx came out swinging with “Blue Collar Man.” Late arrivers scrambled to their seats, making it just in time for “The Grand Illusion” to come rolling out in regal splendor. Keyboardist Lawrence Gowan has seamlessly taken over the Dennis DeYoung spot, but he adds his own flourishes and spin (especially his keyboards) to the Styx apparatus as well.
“Hello friends!” Tommy Shaw called out. “I’d say we have ourselves a rock show…” And with that, the crowd favorites kept coming: “Too Much Time On My Hands,” “Lady” and “Fooling Yourself.” At the same time, they did reach for more obscure songs only Styx fans would recognize: “Lorelei,” “Man In The Wilderness,” “Suite Madame Blue” and “Crystal Ball.”
Original bassist Chuck Panozzo (who seems to be at every show) came out to play on “Miss America,” “Come Sail Away” and the encore of “Renegade.” And without fail, the audience ate it up, some exiting afterward, unable to stay for or endure the evening’s next act.
There is no doubt that Yes has been the subject of major scrutiny since they let go of their original singer, Jon Anderson, in 2008. It was a difficult thing to take in at the Greek in 2010, but tonight there was a great deal of inquisitiveness because of Fly From Here, the first new Yes studio album in over 10 years.
Singer Benoit David seems a bit more comfortable in his role — if only he could lose the floating stage moves. The Anderson comparisons are obvious, although opening with “Tempus Fugit,” from Drama — the only other Yes studio album without Anderson — is a sly attempt to dispel those comparisons. The Trevor Horn comparisons have been increasing.
If you can get past the change in vocalists and focus squarely on the musicianship for which Yes is known, then you may have sit on either side of the fence. The energy level was certainly amiss on “Yours Is No Disgrace” and “Owner of a Lonely Heart.” Fortunately, Steve Howe is still the master guitarist of prog when it comes to “And You And I” and “Starship Trooper.”
As for the sole new song, the album’s epic title track, “Fly From Here,” you were either watching David trying to make it his own or keyboardist Geoff Downes, back in the band after 30 years and the composer of this new entry into Yesdom. Downes, who along with Howe, has a second job with Asia, was clearly on the mark and holding down the fort behind a tower of keyboards. And to be honest, after the song was over, this reviewer found himself wanting more.
In the scope of the entire set, nine songs flew by in a flash. An encore of “Roundabout” had me heading to the door, not completely sure if I wanted the tried and true over the new and unexplored. I believe older artists should still make new music if they can do so without embarrassing themselves. Without it, Yes would be dangerously close to becoming a heritage band like Styx, who didn’t play anything new. Then again, when you get into the economics of making new records in a downloadable digital age, you have to wonder if it’s even worth it. Who knows — maybe we’ll find out on the next Yes album.