Peter Frampton will always be remembered mostly for his legendary 1976 double-live album, Frampton Comes Alive! The guitarist’s first couple post-Humble Pie studio efforts didn’t garnish much attention until several tracks popped up again on that seminal San Francisco live set.
That’s okay. Recorded on 24 track tape at one of Frampton’s first headlining gigs (at Winterland Ballroom), FCA! turned heads during the bicentennial with hits like “Show Me the Way” and “Baby, I Love Your Way” and has sold over eight million copies to date. Besides, KISS didn’t go mainstream until their first live package, either. The costumed cretins have done pretty well for themselves since then.
Frampton followed FCA! with the guest-laden, head-scratchingly titled I’m in You in 1977, scoring his highest-charting single yet with the title track. But then he suffered both personal and professional downturns, sustaining near-fatal injuries in a car crash in the Bahamas and losing his longtime girlfriend. The Robert Stigwood film Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band—which starred Frampton and fellow chart-toppers The Bee Gees—flopped at the box office. 1979 LP Where I Should Be yielded a pair of minor hits, but by the arrival of 1981’s Breaking All the Rules it was clear the music landscape had changed. Classic rockers were being overlooked in favor of punk-pop bands and new wave synth groups, leaving big names like The Eagles and Fleetwood Mac (temporarily) in the dust. The only guitarists receiving any attention were metal-influenced shredders like Eddie Van Halen and his countless clones.
But Peter soldiered on, dropping The Art of Control, Premonition, and When All the Pieces Fit in the 80s. “Lying” received limited airplay, and “More Ways Than One” landed Frampton on MTV at the dawn of another mass shift in consumer taste. Blending artistic license with marketing savvy, Peter dodged the grunge monster with Frampton Comes Alive II, the official sequel to his ’76 Winterland showcase.
Now the guitarist has released a third landmark live package—FCA! 35: An Evening with Peter Frampton (Eagle Rock). Only this time, the deal is sweetened by video footage.
Filmed in February 2012 at The Beacon Theatre (NYC) and Pabst Theater (Milwaukee), FCA! 35 is a 28-track rock extravaganza spanning two DVDs and CDs. The project finds Frampton joined by longtime bassist Stan Sheldon and newer musicians Rob Arthur (keys, guitar), Dan Wojciechowski (drums), and Adam Lester (guitar) for a sprawling three-hour show that culls material from throughout Frampton’s forty-plus years in the business. The concert includes a family reunion, a touching salute to original FCA! musicians who’ve passed on, and a handful of cool covers (Beatles, Rolling Stones, Soundgarden). Peter even dusts off a pair of Humble Pie numbers for good measure.
The video was directed by Pierre and Francois Lamoreux, whose past clients include Dweezil Zappa, Joe Satriani, and Rush, and assembles digital clips from multiple cameras positioned throughout both venues. The shots are consistently interesting and the edits tasteful and well-timed, never shortcutting any one musician or lingering too long on another. So credit Directors of Photography Eugene O’Connor and Brian O’Carroll for their keen eyes and common sense.
The audio mix—courtesy Chuck Ainlay—is likewise superlative, and it isn’t long into the show that casual fans will be reminded of Frampton’s guitar prowess. Indeed, the English expat sounds better than ever. His 61-year old tenor voice never wavers; he doesn’t skimp on verses or delegate lines to others, as happens with many Centrum superstars. His guitar attack is as fierce or as tender as necessary, his tones bright and crisp. Frampton gives Lester plenty of space for his own leads, occasionally dueling with or doubling his Australian co-guitarist on some memorable harmonies.
But yeah, four songs in and you’re like, whoa—Why haven’t I been paying more attention to this guy?
The first DVD is essentially a reenactment of the Winterland show, with Frampton and his band spiritedly performing the early 70s songs in roughly the same sequence they appeared on Frampton Comes Alive! Taking their positions in front of a line of Vox, Mesa Boogie, and Marshall amplifiers (and one box of Kleenex), the five-piece invigorates Milwaukee with “Something’s Happening” and “Doobie Wah.”
Looking more college professor now than Dynamite! pin-up model, Frampton ditches his jacket before playing the pretty intro to “Lines on My Face” (from 1973’s Frampton’s Camel). But by the end of the tune he’s putting his beloved black Les Paul through its paces, notes loud and scorching—and not at all unbefitting an axe literally baptized in flames.
“We’re gonna do ya the entire Me Comes Alive,” announces Peter. “Then we’re gonna play for another day and a half!”
Keyboardist Rob Arthur strums an acoustic guitar on “Show Me the Way” as Frampton solos gleefully through the famous “talk box” effect he popularized with the song eons ago.
Old photographs loop on a giant video backdrop during “Winds of Change” as Peter plucks a Martin steel-string en homage to departed band mates Bob mayo and John Siomos. On delicate instrumental “Penny for Your Thoughts” he makes like Steve Howe (of Yes / Asia fame), pulling off some sweet acoustic bluegrass trills. Votive candles dominate the big screen during the sing-a-long “All I Wanna Be (Is By Your Side).”
“Baby, I Love Your Way,” “Go to the Sun,” and “(I’ll Give You) Money” round out the main set, with Sheldon alternately thumping and caressing his fretless bass with practiced vibrato. “Shine On” serves the Wisconsin beer-and-cheese audience with a slice of Humble Pie. Framptonized jam “Jumpin’ Jack Flash” and electrifying encore “Do You Feel Like We Do” sees the group toying with dynamics—reducing their guitar wails to quiet, whispered notes and taking a breath before climbing to noisy new crescendos.
The second DVD has the guys firing on all cylinders in New York, barreling through Frampton’s more recent oeuvre (but bypassing the 80s-90s). Sheldon expertly fingers five-string bass on “Asleep at the Wheel,” a soulful essay of an American dream gone wrong. Hailing from 2010’s Thank You Mr. Churchill, “Restraint” is a scathing indictment of the “greedy pigs” on Wall Street. Slow, dreamy “Float” channels the guitar histrionics of Pink Floyd’s “Shine On You Crazy Diamond” as haunting images of Earth–as seen from space—flicker overhead. “Boot It Up” (from the Grammy-winning Fingerprints) veers from Led Zeppelin-like riffs into funk, jazz, and country territory, with Lester working slide guitar and Arthur pumping away on organ.
Frampton plays both a ukulele and a blood-red Fender Stratocaster on “Vaudeville Nanna and the Banjolele.” He employs e-bow and talk box on the stunning “Black Hole Sun,” recreating the 90s alternative hit with gargantuan fuzz tones and psychedelic finesse. Peter’s hirsute son Julianne joins his Pops onstage to sing “Road to the Sun” and “I Don’t Need No Doctor.”
Frampton and friends climax with “While My Guitar Gently Weeps,” transforming George Harrison’s White Album classic into a twelve-minute tour de force. Replete with Arthur’s menacing piano, Wojciechowski’s snare thwacks and Zildjian cymbal crashes, and searing guitar from both Lester and Frampton, the tune serves as a triumphant terminus to the Beacon portion of FCA! 35.
Bonus documentary “The Phoenix” details how Peter lost—and was reunited with—his prized black 1954 Les Paul after thirty years: The guitar used on Humble Pie’s Rockin’ the Fillmore and the first FCA! was presumed destroyed when the C-130 cargo plane carrying it burned on a Venezuelan runway in 1981. The instrument survived (though badly burned), surreptitiously changing hands over the years until a Frampton fan spotted it for what it was and took steps to return it to its owner. Frampton chats with Marc Mariana, who first gave him the guitar in 1970 after one of Humble Pie’s noted Fillmore gigs. Then Peter consults Mike McGuire at Gibson headquarters about mitigating the damage done to instrument. “It’ll sing like a bird,” McGuire promises. And after Joe Glaser redresses its frets and conducts a rigorous quality inspection, it does—as heard on the DVDs.
“It became a part of me, the only guitar I could play,” Frampton explains while relaxing with his cats at home.
“I had to learn to play others. When I heard it was still out there my heart began pounding again. Sure, it’s sitting there now, and I’m all nonchalant about it. But when I think of what it went through, it’s like, holy crap!”
Anyone who watches FCA! 35—diehard fan or otherwise—will concur. This is three hours of one of rock guitar’s most intuitive practitioners at his peak.