In devising a tribute to his landmark concert album Frampton Comes Alive!, Peter Frampton had the idea of a concert program that started with the sweet stuff.
"We decided to give them dessert first," said the Grammy-winning British singer/guitarist, who performs Tuesday at the new Eastern Kentucky University Center for the Arts in Richmond. "So we open the show with what they are expecting. And then we give them something they are not expecting."
Frampton's concert serving of "dessert," which makes up the first set of his current performance repertoire, is Frampton Comes Alive! — the entire album. The 1976 album included some of his most defining and lasting pop and rock hits — specifically Baby I Love Your Way, Show Me the Way and Do You Feel Like I Do — so the set spotlights the Frampton music people know best.
"That's the music the audiences are there for. But they seem to be satisfied enough with that to come back after the interval and say, 'OK, let's see what else you've got.'"
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The second set of his shows spans everything that happened before and after Frampton Comes Alive!: the fearsome early-'70s blues-boogie music he created with Humble Pie and instrumental works from his Grammy-winning 2006 album, Fingerprints; newer original works from 2010's Thank You Mr. Churchill; and a few longtime concert favorites, including his cover of George Harrison's While My Guitar Gently Weeps.
"The general consensus from fans seems to be, 'Yes, we knew you were going to do Comes Alive. We were thrilled we got to see that. But the thing that blew us away was the second set.' And that was the goal. And it seems to be playing out the way I was really hoping it would."
A point of clarification about the Frampton Comes Alive! set: Fans who committed the album to memory (and many have, right down to the stage banter), will notice a different order of songs in Tuesday's performance. That's because Frampton won't re-create the album sequentially. He will perform the set list of songs that he used for the 1975 concerts that were source material for the live album. All of the record's songs will be performed, but in the order from the mid-'70s shows rather than the album.
"Remember that on vinyl albums, because of timing, you had to split the song order up a bit," Frampton, 61, said. "So now we're putting them back in the same order that we performed them in 1975."
Given its lasting popularity over the decades, many fans have come to view Frampton Comes Alive! as a work unto itself, but it's a concert compendium of songs pulled from Frampton's first four solo albums — 1972's Wind of Change, 1973's Frampton's Camel, 1974's Something's Happening and 1975's Frampton — plus an earlier song from his Humble Pie days (Shine On). Frampton views the years when he launched his post-Humble Pie career with those four albums as a period of exuberant, naïve discovery.
"It was a very innocent period, really. I was writing songs without really knowing what I was doing. But happy accidents happened, and that, I think, is how great music comes out. I get a nice smile when I listen to those early records — not all of them, but some of them.
"Some songs don't have choruses. Some had two bridges. I just wrote the way that I felt. Sometimes, I suppose, too much knowledge can be a hindrance. At that point, everything was just so fresh for me. It was so exciting to write. As far as I was concerned, there were no rules."
Frampton's Humble Pie tenure was filled will similar excitement. The British band placed the young guitarist alongside Small Faces alumnus Steve Marriott, a singer with an almost combustible soul-drenched intensity. The band's popular cover of the Ashford & Simpson R&B classic I Don't Need No Doctor, with its razor-sharp guitar riffs, remains a defining moment of the band's early recording career. Frampton has regularly featured the song in his set lists over the years.
This fall, Frampton and Jerry Shirley, the only other surviving member of the original Humble Pie lineup, will present a lifetime achievement award from Classic Rock, a major British music magazine, to the family of Marriott, who died in 1991.
"Oh, yes, Humble Pie. Very timely, actually, this question," Frampton said. "It's been 20 years since Steve has passed. He taught me so much. What an incredible performer he was — and a one-of-a-kind singer. He just exuded confidence onstage, but not so much offstage. But that's usually how it works, isn't it?
"Humble Pie set me on a course for the rest of my career. It was definitely the place where I came up and helped define my guitar style. I can't quite put into words how great it was to be in that band."
So what's the next step? After revisiting and honoring the past and surveying the scope of recent albums on his current tour, what will make Frampton come alive down the road?
"I don't know, and that's the way I like it. The next thing I write in its entirety that really excites me. ... That's when we will be off and running. That will be the new direction. That process has always been the same for me, but music always changes."