Peter Frampton may have survived two major accidents -- one in an automobile and one in the film "Sgt. Pepper" -- but he has apparently not overcome those career derailments. At a scantily attended Merriweather Post Pavilion last night, Frampton unveiled his new Springsteen haircut and increasingly hardened approach. The question is: Can Frampton Come Alive Again?
His show suggests many obstacles, but that's nothing new to Frampton. He overcame his good looks and built up credence, first with Humble Pie and then with his own groups, becoming the first rock artist to pave a platinum brick road with the sweat of nonstop touring. Frampton enthralled his constituency with articulate and emotive guitar playing, fragile yet flexible vocals, and a cheery, unmenacing pop stance reflected in fluid melodies and facile lyrics; after a three-year road show, his fans bought close to 10 million souvenir, live double albums.
Now, Frampton's career is beginning to resemble one of his bittersweet guitar solos -- 10 years of scene-setting leading up to the blazing passage of 1977's live monster, followed by a redundant stating of familiar melodies. Frampton has dropped his acoustic set entirely and, except for a few old favorites like "Lines on My Face" and "Show Me the Way," has chosen to accent the hard-line approach. He has not lost the ability to structure succulent guitar lines, but his workaday voice has lost its saving grace: the sense of innocence.
The 3,000 fans at the Pavilion cheered him on unreservedly . . . and undeservedly. It's ironic that a decade after leaving it, Frampton should not only be eating but sounding like Humble Pie; it makes that "Coming Alive" period look like just another pretty phase.