Peter Frampton and The Doobie Brothers recently played the Sands Event Center, giving a fairly packed venue performances that ranged from solid, if safe, to just plain boring.
The evening opened with Matthew Curry, a guitar and blues rocker from Indiana. Just 19 years old, Curry’s sound fit right in with the theme of the evening: classic rock. His five-song set was just long enough to show off his chops on the guitar, but not so long that his set grew stale with songs that didn’t exactly invigorate the crowd. While the music itself was solid, the band backing Curry’s stage presence was nonexistent.
The Doobie Brothers’ set started unfortunately, with an initial cheerful crowd quickly settling into a lull as the band launched into their first song, “Jesus Is Just Alright”. “Rockin’ Down the Highway,” one of the better songs of the night, displayed the classic rock sound the band is best known for, even for a popular single that never ended up charting. The band then ran through a series of duds, making an already timid show even more boring. “Dependin’ On You,” a cheesy cut from their late 70’s work and “World Gone Crazy,” their latest single from 2011, fell completely flat. During the latter, the band urged the crowd, “C’mon everybody, get up!” Three-quarters of the crowd remained seated. Deeper cuts of “Neal’s Fandango”, “South City Midnight Lady”, and “Eyes of Silver” were all met with similar response.
It wasn’t until the band played “Takin’ It to the Streets”, featuring an extended keyboard intro, that the band finally hit its stride. A cover of Sonny Boy Williamson’s “Don’t Start Me Talking” was the second best song of the evening, with the band launching into keyboard, sax, and guitar solos and synchronized moves across the stage. “Black Water” was predictably the band’s greatest song of the evening. Replacing ‘Mississippi’ with ‘Pennsylvania’, the band finally got the crowd on their feet, singing along, and you could immediately sense the band was having a great time as well. The band closed out their main set still on a high note with “Long Train Runnin’”. After a short intermission, the band awkwardly returned to the stage for an encore, even though the crowd wasn’t chanting for extra songs. The band quickly got into “China Grove” which ended up being the best of the set visually, with band members spot-lit on either side and the center of the stage. “Listen to the Music”, a staple of Doobie Brothers’ sets, closed out their show, giving the crowd a sample of what could’ve been a great set.
Usually when seeing a band as established as The Doobie Brothers one wants to not just hear the hits, but the deep cuts and rarer songs from the band’s catalogue. This didn’t seem to be the case with the crowd at the Sands, and the band, who otherwise harmonized and sounded great, seemed dulled down and muddy during these songs. Given the band’s miscues, and the crowd’s lack of enthusiasm, one has to wonder: does anyone really want to see or hear less popular Doobie Brothers songs?
Peter Frampton, thankfully, didn’t fall down into that same rut. Although his first song, “You Had to Be There” wasn’t up to snuff, with weak vocals, the rest of the set was a searing testament the guitarist’s longevity. The singular downside to Frampton’s set, besides the opening song, was a screen behind his band projecting all sorts of wince-inducing graphics that ranged from Windows Media Player visualizations to bad clip art in quality. During “Lines of My Face”, his third song, Frampton declared, “You are my family and friends,” to which the crowd burst into cheers and applause.
“Show Me the Way” was spot-on, with Frampton using his signature talk box effect and delivering the most energetic song of the night. On “I’ll Give You Money” he went into an extended guitar jam, one of many throughout the evening that displayed his technical finesse on the instrument and stretched a nine-song set into nearly an hour and a half.
He then launched into a mostly instrumental cover of Soundgarden’s “Black Hole Sun” which proved to be the pinnacle of the set. An acoustic version of “Baby I Love Your Way” led the crowd into an enveloping sing-along for the second-to-last song, making for one of the only moments that made the show truly special. For the final song of the main set, Frampton played an insanely long rendition of “Do You Feel Like We Do” that, while verging on exhausting, never became overwhelmingly boring.
For the encore, Frampton brought out Delaware resident and Alice Cooper/UFO guitarist Vinnie Moore to trade licks with him on a blistering cover of “As My Guitar Gently Weeps”, recalling the closing of his Musikfest show just over one year prior. For how short the set was on songs, the guitar jams and Frampton’s energy electrified the set and proved that Frampton’s still alive.
Tickets for this show were provided for review by the Sands.