Frampton Comes Alive At The Greek

I went to hear "All I Want To Be (Is By Your Side)" but my night was made by "I Want To Go To The Sun".

Last time I saw Peter he was at the Greek too, last summer, giving it all on tour with Yes. It was kind of sad, the sun was still out, the venue never levitated.

But last night was completely different. Reminded me of my old friend Ron Fierstein’s saw, that you never open for ANYONE! Either they’re there to see you or forget it.

They were there to see Frampton last night. People who’d bought that legendary double live album. And even though he got a reputation as being a teenybopper favorite I saw beards and motorcycle chains. This was not purely yuppies on parade, floating on nostalgia, this was people who were believers once and needed to reconnect with the source.

Usually at the shed it’s about the experience more than the music. People buy food, they’re constantly traipsing in and out.

But this crowd was here for the music. They knew every lick, every word and were singing along. You could feel a direct thread back to 1976.

For those not paying attention, for those too young to experience this phenomenon, Peter Frampton was a teen star in the U.K. in a band called the Herd, which he exited for legitimacy in Humble Pie. And on the eve of Humble Pie’s breakthrough, he left to go solo. He went from nascent stardom to journeyman instantly. You see the last piece of work Peter did with Humble Pie, "Rockin’ The Fillmore", went nuclear, the band was suddenly playing arenas, and most people in America still had no idea who Frampton was.

And the exquisite debut solo album didn’t change this. "Frampton’s Camel" came next, more of the same, but not quite as good. Then the nadir, "Somethin’s Happenin’", the first Frampton album you couldn’t play for somebody else, to turn them on.

And just when everybody stopped paying attention, Peter released a masterpiece, the self-titled "Frampton". It contained "Show Me The Way", which was released as a single and promptly sunk. But when the live take came out a year later, it was a monster, it was ubiquitous, you got to pushing the radio button to get rid of it, even if you’d been following Peter from day one.

You see "Frampton Comes Alive!" was not a calculated plan to conquer the world, it was closer to a last ditch effort, a summation of Frampton’s career, his best stuff, a cheap project for fans and maybe a few more.

And then…

You see the biggest successes cannot be calculated. They surprise you. Peter Frampton was suddenly an overnight success, but he’d been plying the boards for almost a decade, he’d not only honed his chops he had a double album’s worth of great material ready for people to catch up with.

And they did.

Humble Pie might have been playing arenas, but half a decade later Frampton was playing STADIUMS!

And from there we can calculate the mistakes. The overtouring, three times in one year in the same market, the lame "Sgt. Pepper" movie and an album that pandered to the younger demo that pissed off the hard core and suddenly Frampton was done.

But that still leaves the biggest album of its time in the rearview mirror. And like high school, like your first kiss, your wedding, you cannot forget it. And it being thirty five years on, Peter decided to use a recitation from beginning to end to sell tickets.

And I was stunned he didn’t make a bigger deal of it. Opening with the newer material and making people wait. Treating it reverently. Instead, Frampton and his band just whipped the music off. As if you stumbled upon them in the garage. And that’s what made it so great, the songs were not dead, but alive. Last night at the Greek, Frampton killed.

And he makes jokes about losing his hair. He engages the audience in conversation. But what is truly stunning is the playing. He’s got that customized Les Paul and out of the speakers comes that sound, that’s embedded in our DNA.

Usually the oldsters have the act on hard drive. That’s the way the kids do it, baby boomers are not allowed to complain, they’re told youngsters don’t care. But when you see somebody actually playing this music, songs they wrote, your jaw drops. It seems effortless, but it’s representative of tons of hard work.

And the woman next to me was whispering the song titles before Peter announced them.

And people stood for the hits. And that’s quite a statement for this geriatric assembly.

But it was the album cuts that soared.

In the middle of the show, it’s just Frampton and his guitar, an ever-changing parade of acoustics. This is where you hear the instrumental written for his ex, "Penny For Your Thoughts". This is where you hear the acoustic rendition of the title cut from the solo debut, "Wind Of Change". This is where you hear "All I Want To Be (Is By Your Side)". The original is one of those long trips so prevalent back then and gone today. You know, "Stairway To Heaven", "Free Bird", songs that started one place and ended up somewhere different, featuring long rave ups at the end.

And Peter raved it up with his companion guitarist after this, on the electric tracks.

But the take of "All I Want To Be (Is By Your Side)" on "Frampton Comes Alive!" is half the length and acoustic, it’s the same thing, yet different, it’s intimate, it’s like Peter’s singing only for you, who wouldn’t fall in love with a guy who wrote and performed this?

Boys and girls. Sure, Frampton was cute, but it was the music. These players were our heroes. We wanted to get closer. We felt they were speaking to us, listening to their music is how we got through.

Peter’s playing the licks on this giant wooden axe and hearing it live jetted me right back to the seventies, sitting in front of the stereo, being saved by the music.

But I was expecting "All I Want To Be (Is By Your Side)", I was playing it in my head for days before the show. But when the band launched into the lick of "I Want To Go To The Sun", I got the twisties inside, like you do when you encounter an old friend from summer camp.

There’s this introductory piano figure, that makes you get up and start to dance. A riff can be that inspirational, that motivational. They’re hard to write, but the longer you play, the harder you work, the greater the odds you’ll come up with something just this infectious.

My leg is pumping and my shoulders are twisting listening now. It’s like jumping on marshmallows.

And then there’s that magical change.

You don’t want it to end.

And we didn’t want "Frampton Comes Alive!" to end last night.

He tacked on the numbers from the original show, the encores, the ones on the anniversary edition of the album, "Jumpin’ Jack Flash" and the Humble Pie classic "Shine On".

We just wanted to stay there. Go back to a time when music ruled the world, when it wasn’t about flash, but substance.

Alas, it’s impossible. Two members of the original band have already joined that superstar act in the sky. No one gets to make four unsuccessful albums in a row anymore, executives who know more about money than music say LET ME SHOW YOU THE WAY!

But only when you go in your own direction, follow your own path, can you truly achieve greatness.

I know, I know, "Frampton Comes Alive!" was thirty five years ago.

I know, I know, Peter never had another big hit.

I know, I know, rock music is now a niche.

I know, I know, all the innovation is in tech.

I know, I know, no one will sit through an album ad infinitum to know every lick.

But once upon a time we did. In the glory years.

We relived the glory years last night at the Greek.

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