In 1993’s Wayne’s World 2, budding Asian rock star Cassandra (who wasn’t in the U.S. in the ‘70s) is eager to show Wayne one of her garage sale finds. She excitedly holds up a scuffed vinyl copy of Frampton Comes Alive and says, “Isn’t that great? You’ve heard of it?
Wayne chortles in disbelief: “Exsqueeze me, Have I ever seen this one before? Frampton Comes Alive? Everybody in the world has Frampton Comes Alive! If you lived in the suburbs, you were issued it; it came in the mail with samples of Tide.”
It’s not much of an exaggeration. In 1976, Frampton Comes Alive was everywhere.
It sold eight million copies that year and has remained one of the best-selling live albums of all time. Back then, “Do You Feel Like We Do”, “Show Me the Way” and “Baby, I Love Your Way” were in constant rotation and made Frampton a superstar. His cherubic face and golden locks are eternally trapped in a moment in time on the album cover. Since then, his fame and fortune has waxed and waned and taken him all over the world, including, for a time, Cincinnati (Indian Hill to be exact) where Frampton had his home with his local wife before he headed back to Nashville.
A few years ago, Frampton announced his retirement from touring due to a progressive muscle disorder (inclusion body myositis) and the world thought that was the last chance to see him perform, but it seems he’s not ready to throw in the towel yet. Thankfully for his fans, he’s still restless and feeling strong enough to tour. In a recent statement, he treasured the second chance and said, “Every note I play now has more meaning and soul. I love playing live and this fighter wants to stay in the ring as long as he can.” He kicked of the appropriately named “Never Say Never” recently and he graced Ohio with two back-to-back gigs, first at Rose Music Center at The Heights and last night at PNC Pavilion. It was good to have him back in what he calls his “home away from home”.
After a short slideshow highlighting photos from his career (look, there he is in Humble Pie, now he’s hanging with Bowie, now he’s playing to massive stadiums), Frampton and his band took the stage. Frampton walked gingerly with a cane and took a seat and the band played seated (except for keys) for the entire set. If the illness has impacted his playing, charm, or humor, it was impossible to tell as he tore into the muscular, bluesy “Lying”. His joy was palpable as he shredded and rocked in his seat and moved onto “Shine “(a Humble Pie song on Frampton Comes Alive). Frampton was excited to raid his catalog for songs he has never played live. Until recently, he hadn’t played “I Got My Eyes on You” for fifty years and it’s a gem. The tune recalls grittier Steely Dan without the hermetic studio perfection, a beautiful combination of Frampton on electric guitar and his guitarist on acoustic.
The setlist was heavy on tunes from Frampton Comes Alive (see setlist at end of this review) and for a generation or two that may have only heard it on crackly vinyl, eight track or cruddy FM radio, it’s a joy to hear live. Everything was amped up and more muscular. Frampton wasn’t happy with the cover photo because it made him look like a teen idol. While Frampton has lost his golden locks, his age suits him; he looks like a dignified, mature elder statesman of rock and roll. And after over fifty years of performances, his voice has more muscle and depth. This is far from a nostalgia tour; this band means business.
“Lines on My Face” was gorgeous and sparkled with guitar filigree. Frampton introduced it as an homage to his recently deceased bass player, John Regan. At times, Frampton’s soloing recalled David Gilmour’s elegiac playing or Larry Carlton’s virtuoso work and he allowed himself to be transported as a slideshow recapped moments from Regan’s life.
But it wasn’t all somber; everyone was on their feet for “Show Me the Way” as Frampton goofed around with his talk box and burnished the old radio chestnut. Before launching into “Crying Clown”, Frampton joked he wanted to hear a crowd response so strong that he could brag in other cities that they weren’t couldn’t compete with the Cincy crowd and the crowd enthusiastically complied, even before the song started. While the hit provided a familiar, sugary rush, the deeper cuts were a feast.
“All I Wanna Be (Is by Your Side)” was phenomenal. Frampton said that most people know the acoustic version, but it was originally recorded on electric and the change is thrilling. He was clearly touched by the crowd’s enthusiasm as he peeled off riff after fiery riff. He thanked the crowd over and over, happy to be performing again.
Among the Humble Pie and solo work, the band dropped in a few canny covers. “Georgia (On My Mind)” (“Hoagie Carmichael…he’s all over Tik Tok”) got recast as a long, bluesy vamp, erasing memories of Ray Charles’ pastoral version. Later, the band waged sonic war on a guitar-heavy bruising instrumental version of Soundgarden’s “Black Hole Sun”, complete with a bit of eerie, glitchy talk box at the end as an illustration of the late Chris Cornell gazed down. Fantastic.
The arguable highlight of a strong set was “I’ll Give You Money,” a firecracking rocker that turned into a showcase of guitar prowess as both guitarists repeatedly traded off solos and the insistent bass and drums pushed steadily and tried to hold the line.
The band closed out the main set with “Baby I Love Your Way” (a song Frampton claims he wrote in the afternoon after having written “Show Me the Way” in the morning). It’s a beautiful version, but decades of radio play have diluted the impact of hearing it a bit. Conversely, unleashed from the confines of radio speakers, “Do You Feel Like We Do” was a beast and gained huge power.
Instead of leaving the stage (“In the old days, we’d stumble off, do some drugs and come back and do three fast songs”), the band kicked into “I Want You to Love Me’ by Humble Pie followed by a blistering cover of Nickolas Ashford’s “I Don’t Need No Doctor” and, as a nightcap, a beautiful version of The Beatles’ “While My Guitar Gently Weeps” (whose original guitar solo overdub was played by Eric Clapton, another Ohio resident).
Hearing these terrific songs made me think how ripe they are for reinterpretation by other artists- imagine Black Crowes doing “All I Wanna Be (Is by Your Side)” or Chris Stapleton recrafting “Can’t Take Me Away” with his country leanings or maybe Cat Power. Heck yeah.
Be thankful for whatever reserve of strength Peter Frampton tapped into and that he’s still out there to surprise a new generation. Almost 50 years later, the songs still rock; Cassandra would be thrilled. Excellent.
Shine On (Humble Pie)
I Got My Eyes on You
Lines on My Face
Show Me the Way
The Crying Clown
Georgia (On My Mind)
All I Wanna Be (Is by Your Side)
Can't Take That Away
Black Hole Sun
(I'll Give You) Money
Baby, I Love Your Way
Do You Feel Like We Do
I Want You to Love Me
I Don't Need No Doctor
While My Guitar Gently Weeps