- The Washington Times - Sunday, June 27, 2004

The epicenter of cool was far, far away from the Nissan Pavilion Saturday night, but fans of Styx and Peter Frampton were not ashamed. Their numbers are dwindling, however.

Sure, it’s been a fairly dismal summer concert season so far, nowhere more so than at Nissan, where big-ticket acts such as Britney Spears, Christina Aguilera and Fleetwood Mac have canceled shows, and mainstays such as the Dave Matthews Band and the Dead have been drawing lower-than-normal sales.

But even by summer 2004 standards, the turnout for resurgent prog-rockers Styx and aging golden boy Mr. Frampton was pretty low. (The evening’s opening act, Nelson — remember Matthew and Gunnar, bleach-blond twin sons of Ricky? — were no help, either.)

The Bristow, Va. amphitheater’s lawn was mostly vacant, and pavilion seating was spotty.

What to do? Act like it’s 1977. Close ranks and dig Mr. Frampton, 54, doing that deliciously cheesy talk-box guitar effect. “Do You Feel Like We Do” still rocks, and Mr. Frampton, lately of the infomercial circuit, can still play a beautifully fluid rock solo.

Newish songs such as “Not Forgotten,” which Mr. Frampton dedicated to the troops in Iraq, went over fine, but there was no living down “Frampton Comes Alive!” and songs such as “Baby, I Love Your Way,” the soundtrack to many a late-‘70s prom.

“We just wrote this on the bus,” he teased before playing “Show Me the Way.”

“Now, that’s how a guitar is supposed to be played,” said a young fan after Mr. Frampton concluded a jazzy instrumental.

Styx, the headliner, could’ve used a few pointers in post-relevance modesty. Guitarists Tommy Shaw and James Young came out guns a-blazing, backed by an elephantine row of Marshall stacks.

Larry Gowan, the singer-keyboardist replacement for founding Styx member Dennis DeYoung, was dressed in a red Canadian Mountie jacket and spun around a revolving synthesizer, Mr. DeYoung’s trademark stage antic.

“Come Sail Away,” “Lady,” “Fooling Yourself (The Angry Young Man)”, “Too Much Time on My Hands”… if anyone still likes these songs, are they more than guilty pleasures, fun singalongs?

Possibly I’m wrong. Possibly someone bought last year’s “Cyclorama” album and decided Styx still has something left to say.

One new song, “These Are the Times,” at least had the benefit of being about current world events.

Thankfully, Styx didn’t impose Mr. DeYoung’s notorious ballad “Babe” on the audience Saturday.

And, best of all, exiting the Nissan parking lot was a cinch.

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