Three guitar greats, Peter Frampton, B.B. King, and Roger McGuinn of The Byrds wowed the Wolf Trap crowds in a light-hearted, fun concert with some of the most serious guitar playing around. Frampton wanted to do something a little different for this tour, dreaming of having as many guitars onstage as possible. King was the first one to say yes and he took the stage first, larger-than-life and grinning from ear to ear in a loud purple shirt with a guitar on his knee.
It was a rare treat to see a master player who knows he has absolutely nothing left to prove. At times he seemed a benevolent grandpa, charming the audience and praising his band effusively, happy to listen to them play before teaching them how it’s done. He’d throw down riffs like they were nothing, still grinning and laughing and joking around and singing up a storm on blues classics like the fun, easy “I Need You So Bad” and “Every Day I Have the Blues.”
King’s birthday is next month and his voice is infused with 88 years of living but as powerful as ever. He said that the reason he’s still doing this is because the thrill is definitely not gone. That iconic song capped his night, but he had to stretch his set out waiting for his guest of honor. He first pulled out a song he recorded in 1963 called “Down Hearted,” a slow classic with a melody that he was happy to improvise on to give himself time to remember the words, unapologetically stating, “When you’re my age, you forget things.” Then he started up the best version of “You Are My Sunshine” I’ve ever heard, getting the audience to sing along and asking all the ladies to kiss the person next to them.
His surprise guest was, of course, Peter Frampton, who joined him for “Thrill is Gone.” Frampton did the heavy guitar lifting as King sang in his gorgeous voice and then both of them were playing and there’s no other sound like it on earth. His encore went on for a good long while as he threw gold beads to the audience and waved.
Frampton kicked it up a notch after intermission in a psychedelic spiral of lights in front of a screen of fun images and abstract colors that conjured up an earlier time. His curly locks are gone but he can still rock out. He opened with “Magic Moon (Da Da Da Da Da!)” with zodiac signs spinning behind him, wasting no time laying down some crazy riffs way up the neck of the guitar that he’s known for. He slowed it down for the haunting “Lines on My Face,” something he has a lot more of now than when he recorded it in 1976.
He pulled out “Show Me the Way” next and had the audience on their feet with his signature “talking guitar” riffs, which he creates with a TalkBox that lets him manipulate the guitar to make it seem like it’s singing. It’s the craziest, coolest effect. He also pulled out an acoustic for “Baby I Love Your Way,” proving he’s not just about the crazy things a guitar can do.
He introduced Roger McGuinn next. They’ve known each other for years and Frampton played back-up as McGuinn sang The Byrds’ “Mr. Tambourine Man” and “Eight Miles High,” and dueted with Frampton on his “All Night Long.” McGuinn’s style is not as flashy as Frampton’s, but his driving riffs are addictive and it was clear both of them were having a lot of fun, falling over themselves to praise each other and both commenting on how unbelievable it would have seemed years ago that they’d be sharing a stage today.
Frampton got serious as it got later, covering Sound Garden’s “Black Hole Sun” and his own “Do You Feel Like We Do” for some intense playing with his back up guitarist Adam Lester, keyboardist and sometime guitarist Rob Arthur, and drummer Dan Wojciechowsk, all chosen probably because they are some of the few musicians who can keep up with him. He also had some great exchanges with bassist Stanley Sheldon, who’s been playing with him for almost four decades.
It was a night for guitar royalty marked as much by the fun they were having as it was by the ridiculously fabulous playing. I suppose that’s one perk of reaching the level these guys have reached – they don’t take themselves seriously, even as they blow the roof off with their music. This is one of those once-in-a-lifetime concerts, powerful and simply awesome!
Running Time: 3.5 hours, with one 30-minute intermission.
Peter Frampton’s Guitar Circus Featuring B.B. King played for one night only on August 11, 2013 at the Filene Center at the Wolf Trap Foundation for the Performing Arts – 1551 Trap Road, in Vienna, VA. For future events, check out their Calendar of Events.