Do You Feel Like We Do?
Few artists have been around so long and done so much, yet have been known for a single album as Peter Frampton. Like just about every other rock fan in the mid-'70s, I too owned a copy of "Frampton Comes Alive" which showed a masterful guitarist in otherwise pop style music. His unique use of a voice box device, which transferred his voice right into the guitar notes, remains a chapter in rock history. After a few years it seemed to some of us that Frampton had just disappeared, though I admit I wasn't really looking. And in fact Frampton did take some years off to start a family. But for the last several years, he's been back, doing new material, and touring nationwide. Now Peter Frampton, with help from Sony High Definition and Image, has released a full concert DVD, with an anamorphic transfer, Dolby Digital and DTS 5.1 tracks, and extras. I'm a happy fan.
Peter Frampton got an early start in the music business. In fact he was doing studio work in his early teens, already showing great talent for guitar. By the time he graduated high school he was already in a popular band in England pleasing the teeny-bopper crowd. But he found that unsatisfying, preferring to really work on his artistic talent rather than simply having a hit. This led to a long association with Steve Marriott, with whom he formed the popular '60s band Humble Pie. Humble Pie broke up and led to Frampton's first solo album in 1971. Certainly he had already gained respect in the music business, but even he was totally unprepared for how big "Frampton Comes Alive" would become. Selling 8 million albums during its first year, it has doubled that figure since. He became an "overnight" sensation after having played professionally, even in some well known bands, for over ten years.
There was good reason for the album's popularity. Unlike most "Live" albums, real care was taken with the recordings, the mixing, and a new element; really making the audience part of the album. In the past most live recordings mix the audience sounds way down, then back up between numbers. Here Frampton really tried to recreate the concert experience on vinyl (that is how we listened to music in the Dark Ages, kids).
Not only was the album well recorded and mixed, but the music was a great combination of simple lyrics and catchy phrases with some excellent guitar work. Frampton will never be called a great singer, though he has a clear, natural sounding voice that is pleasing enough. What he can do is show pure artistry with the guitar. Not always as flashy as some, he is capable of fast, screaming guitar riffs when the occasion calls for it. But mostly he has a flair for finding the right note at the right time to expressively communicate emotion and even story to an audience. As he plays, you can feel the care and joy he expresses with each note. This came through in the live album in 1976, and still comes through on this 1999 recording on DVD. If anything, he's even better now, and still has his trademark voice box for those who couldn't imagine him without it.
Enough history, lets get to this show. Detroit has always been a great venue for Frampton, as it is for many hard-core rock artists. So it was with purposeful intent that he chose this city for the recording of his DVD. A huge crowd is on hand, with a much larger percentage of people my age than you'd normally see at a rock concert, but still plenty of younger people as well. The concert is really a full show, running some 100 minutes, and having 15 songs. His greatest hits are well represented, without the unwanted medleys so many older artists use for their older material. He knows that the crowd wants to hear those songs, and he gives them what they want. He does mix in some newer material, even some brand new stuff into the mix as well, which was also excellent music. You have to give it to musicians who have played together for more than 20 years for knowing how to keep things tight, and having the talent to really show off their stuff. One reason I really like the '70s era of rock, besides the fact I was a young man then, was that it was an era where musicians really tried to reach for the pinnacle of their abilities in their music. A lot of great music came out in 1976 from other bands as well.
Frampton certainly looks older than the baby faced teen heartthrob he was in 1976, but his music and attitude shows a youthful exuberance surprising in someone who has played on stage for more than 30 years. He plays with a smile on his face that shows there is no place else he'd rather be, and his fingers alternately caress and savage the guitar strings depending on the tempo of the songs. And yes, his trademark, the voice box, with even more flair than years ago.
Alright, it's obvious I liked the music, in fact I've listened to it several times already. So how is the DVD? Even better than the music in most regards. I'm extremely happy with the decision to use Sony High Definition for the hi-def masters and subsequent anamorphic transfer on the DVD. These are the same folks responsible for many of the best studio films on DVD as well. Concerts really fare better in widescreen, just like films. This transfer is excellent; a perfect source print is rendered without artifact or color blooming and plenty of sharp detail. Colors are right on target, as are blacks. Fleshtones vary with the colored lighting just like in most rock concerts, but that is intentional. One of the better transfers for a concert disc, and the first one that is anamorphic as well.
Of course a great picture means less on a musical concert than the sound. And there is nothing but compliments here as well. Both Dolby Digital and DTS 5.1 tracks are offered, with the recording and mix made with them in mind. While I do think the DTS track barely edges out the Dolby Digital in regards to presence and spaciousness, I would have been very happy if all I'd heard was the Dolby Digital. Of course, there is also a separate Dolby Digital stereo track for purists who prefer two-channel music, but you'd be missing out. Both tracks have plenty of dynamic range and lots of kick from your subwoofer, and a wide, spacious soundfield. The surrounds are used for "bounce back" off the back walls of the stadium, and contain both audience sounds and the music. It is designed for the music, from all directions, to sound as if you were in the audience with a center seat.
A good concert DVD has to have more than great sound to really take advantage of the format; we want extras too. And this disc does not disappoint in that area either. There is a 25-minute video interview with Peter Frampton, who gives a lot of information on his life and career, with its ups and downs. A multi-page autobiography included on the disc expands upon this. A complete discography and website information rounds out the extras. With one exception I'm happy with what we have.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
The one thing I'm less happy about is the lack of subtitled lyrics. I think this should be a standard feature on any concert disc, and the lack of them means that there is one aspect of the format not taken advantage of. It is a minor complaint in this case, but I think they could and should have included it. Otherwise I have no complaints with the concert (to the contrary, it's terrific) or the disc.
Frampton fans, old and new, should give this one a listen, and likely a purchase. Those who haven't heard his stuff really should; his skills on guitar rank with some of the greats. This disc is all I have other than a very old vinyl LP of his music, and I'm pretty happy.
Peter Frampton is thanked for performing a great concert and taking the time and effort to make a truly fine DVD experience of it. This self-confessed "gadget freak" really did things right from the pre-production right through the authoring process, and it shows. A small fine, suspended for lack of lyrical subtitles, just as a friendly reminder to include them on the next one. Image is also to be commended for a fine DVD release.
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