Peter Frampton - Frampton Comes Alive! - Review
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Already something of an industry journeyman by the age of 25, Frampton’s rock and roll backstory sounds like something Cameron Crowe might have penned in an early draft of Almost Famous. He was boyhood pals with David Bowie. By 14, his band, The Preachers, was being managed by Bill Wyman of the Rolling Stones. By 16, his face was on magazine covers as singer of The Herd. At age 18, he formed Humble Pie, with whom he would record four records before leaving in 1971. He also logged studio time with the likes of George Harrison and Jerry Lee Lewis by the time he was 21. The word wunderkind applies here.

This boded well for young Frampton. But while he quickly found success at home in his native Britain, America proved to be a much harder market to slay. After leaving Humble Pie, he rattled off four solo records in short order. His 1972 debut, Winds of Change, boasted contributions from the likes of Ringo Starr. He wasted no time in following up with Frampton’s Camel (1973), Somethin’s Happening (1974), and Frampton (1975) all solid efforts with no shortage of catchy tunes, especially when put in the context of a classic rock era that clamored for big, ostentatious rock and roll. Still, reception to Frampton’s music in America was lukewarm at best. The songs were there, but there was something missing. Fortunately, the singer would find what he was looking for over a quick string of US dates in June 1975.

There’s probably no counting how many shows Peter Frampton has played over the course of his 50 years playing music, but it’s amazing to think that four dates largely define his legendary career. On June 13, 1975, Frampton, touring behind that year’s record of the same name, graced the stage at the Marin County Civic Center in San Rafael, California. The next night he traveled to San Francisco for a show at the Winterland Ballroom. Fast forward to August 24th at the Long Island Arena and again for a show in Plattsburgh, New York in November 1975, and you have the makings for Frampton Comes Alive!

If it took considerable time for Frampton to break through in the U.S., it was time well spent. By 1976, Frampton’s live show was a finely tuned machine, and Frampton Comes Alive! is a document of the singer and guitarist in the peak of his fighting shape. Couple that fact with its release smack in the midst of rock and roll’s highwater period, and all the ingredients were in place for something huge. Frampton himself seemed pretty cognizant of the gravity of the moment. Opening the set with “Somethin’s Happening” from the record of the same name, the singer’s lyrics carried a little extra weight on stage. “I see a new way,” he sings. “You’ll be in my play, sing my song.” Talk about premonition.

The record’s three singles made good on Frampton’s words, helping the record to move some six million units in 1976 alone. What’s more telling is how each brought some different sonic tricks to the table. The talk box on “Show Me the Way” quickly became one of Frampton’s innovative calling cards, while “Do You Feel Like We Do” showcased Frampton’s feel for capital C classic rock. When he wanted to cool things down, he had an ace in hand there as well. Even all these years later, “Baby, I Love Your Way” is still heavenly boy-girl fodder, so casual and easygoing you can rock yourself to sleep to it. But Frampton Comes Alive! doesn’t coast by strictly on the strength of a handful of backbreakingly huge singles.

The deep cuts carry their own weight too. Frampton marries soulful funk with some masterful guitar solos on “Doobie Funk”, and he even has the presence of mind to slow down and put his spin on a Stones classic (“Jumping Jack Flash”). “How about some rock and roll,” he asks by way of introduction on ” It’s a Plain Shame” before delivering on the promise. Don’t mind if we do. But Frampton also knows when to slow his roll, as he whispers sweetly in your ear on two of the record’s shorter joints, “Wind of Change” and ” Penny For Your Thoughts”. The songs are solid, but the balance and sequencing give the final product even more heft.

As well as Frampton Comes Alive! has aged over the years, there’s also something bittersweet about it. In today’s Internet-driven age where YouTube has overtaken physical media as our go to fix for live music, live records don’t carry the kind of power they once used to champion. Is that the worst thing in the world? No, but it does seem increasingly unlikely we’ll see another live record with the same kind of emotional pull as a Frampton Comes Alive! That just makes Frampton’s masterpiece all the more endearing. The 1970s gave rise to a period where live documentation held a special kind of import and power in music, and Frampton gave us one of its finest exports.

Ryan Bray
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