Peter Frampton | Credit: Courtesy

Peter Frampton’s 50-plus-year career can be cleanly divided between the points before and after he “came alive,” in an epic way. The ace guitarist and vocalist who shared the spotlight with Steve Marriott in the British pub-blues-hard-rock band Humble Pie launched nicely into a solo career in the early ’70s, which garnered both critical and decent commercial success for his artistically satisfying four studio albums, mixing pop, R&B, and touches of hard rock crunch. One highlight of those early albums was Frampton’s moving rendition of Stevie Wonder’s “I Believe (When I Fall in Love It Will Be Forever).”

Then, while he was minding his own business tending a reasonable career, along came the double album Frampton Comes Alive!, and its meteoric rise to global fame more than earned its exclamation point–driven energy. The top-selling album of 1976 has gone on to become one of the most iconic and continuingly popular live albums set onto wax and later into the digital swim. Stop by a digital portal or classic-rock radio station near you to pay another visit. Songs included the “way” twins — the bouncy “Show Me the Way” and “Baby, I Love Your Way”— and “Do You Feel Like We Do,” with its extended jam ending replete with one of the most recognizable “talk box” guitar solos ever put on record.

Frampton, who plays the Arlington on Wednesday, August 16, will no doubt deliver on fan expectations and include those classic tunes. The Comes Alive! blitz came with a price, unfairly typecasting Frampton as a less-than-serious and shirtless poster boy for pop ear candy, and his career took various downward and sideways turns ever since. His musical mission and sense of artistic evolution continues, market forces and fickle fashion aside.

Like David Bowie (on whose Never Let Me Down Frampton played), John Lennon, and many other rock icons, Frampton’s trajectory into the musical limelight wended through art school — the distinction being that his father was an art teacher at Bromley Technical High School, also Bowie’s alma mater. Artistic intentionality has always figured into the Frampton story.

For those tuned into his special, uniquely melodic way with a guitar, proceed directly to his latest album, 2021’s cleverly and truthfully titled Frampton Forgets the Words — a project vaguely related to the impulse behind Frank Zappa’s instrumental album Shut Up ’n’ Play Yer Guitar. Frampton’s impressive all-instrumental song set takes his vocal skills out of the equation. He lets his almost vocal phrasing and sensibility as a guitarist take the spotlight on a song list that includes bright arrangements of Sly Stone’s “If You Want Me to Stay,” Radiohead’s “Reckoner,” George Harrison’s “Isn’t it a Pity,” Roxy Music’s “Avalon,” and Bowie’s “Loving the Alien.” (Check out the goods here).

I last caught Frampton in one of the token pop shows at the Montreal Jazz Festival in 2019, shortly after he had played boldly at the Santa Barbara Bowl, opening for Steve Miller. In Montreal, Frampton’s highly musical way with a guitar nicely suited the jazz surroundings of his concert. A bittersweet air hovered over those shows, part of his announced “retirement tour,” due to the limiting effects of the muscle disorder inclusion body myositis. Fearing that he’d lose his ability to play again, Frampton decided to exit the world stage, but he has thankfully recovered enough to heed the call of “coming alive” again. One of his next stops: the Arlington’s faux village setting. 



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