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Frampton in the Raw

Guitar legend takes his acoustic tour for a spin through Tacoma

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There's a scene in the film version of High Fidelity where John Cusack's character gets dragged out to a show. Upon approaching the door, he hears "Baby I Love Your Way," and turns to the doorman to say, "Is that Peter f@#&*!$ Frampton?" After going inside and seeing that it's a beautiful woman covering the song, Cusack and all of his lovesick friends admit that they'd never liked that song until this moment. This, I think, summarizes how Frampton's career has evolved over time: While Peter Frampton started out as a superstar in the ‘70s, there was an abrupt backlash that could only be relieved by an outsider covering Frampton's well-crafted pop songs.

What precipitated the critical backlash for the man that brought us one of the greatest live albums of all time (Frampton Comes Alive, which remains a staple for anyone with a record player)? It came in the form of a one-two punch, starting with Frampton's I'm In You, which sported not only a laughable title, but an album cover with an open-shirted Frampton giving us bedroom eyes. Never mind that the album itself is not bad, because Frampton's starring role in the unwatchable Beatles-defiling film version of Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band sealed the deal, and much of the credibility he had built up over the ‘70s was lost.

But, just like Cusack and his band of cynical music snobs learned at that acoustic show in High Fidelity, it only takes a little tweaking of one's perspective to see past the jaded dismissal of Frampton and to take notice of how enduring his songs have been. Peter Frampton is touring the country to remind you of this fact, himself, on his Raw tour. For the first time ever, Frampton will be touring with an all-acoustic set, stripping down his songs to their bare essence. Nothing works better to illustrate the quality of a song than by showing its skeleton, with no frills to distract from its integrity.

This is a man who never stopped being a legendary guitarist, as evidenced by his continued work as a session player with giants like George Harrison, David Bowie, and Ringo Starr. Nor did he stop playing around with form, actually earning a Grammy in 2006 for his first instrumental album, Fingerprints, featuring contributions from the likes of Pearl Jam's Mike McCready and Matt Cameron, as well as Charlie Watts and Bill Wyman of the Rolling Stones. His most recent album, 2010's Thank You Mr. Churchill, might be his most ambitious to date, giving us a heavy prog-rock take on history and autobiography, over nearly an hour of conceptual material that doesn't come within 1,000 miles of that Sgt. Pepper's atrocity.

It would be incorrect to say that Peter Frampton had to "bounce back" from that late-70s stumble, as he remained a successful singer-songwriter to anyone besides Frank Zappa and people that weren't jaded enough to abandon an artist over an album cover. Still, the ‘70s came and went, and Frampton - like many of his contemporaries - had to make the choice about whether or not to eke out a fairly comfortable life as a nostalgia act. Ultimately, Frampton seemingly made the decision to release an album every few years or so, while continuing to work behind the scenes with big names in music. That he's willing and able to release the likes of Fingerprints and the personal and boundary-pushing Thank You Mr. Churchill seems to indicate that he's quite comfortable with his station in rock history.

That he's willing to bear it all in a live, acoustic tour is further proof that he has nothing much to hide, at all.

Pantages Theater, w/ Julian Frampton, Saturday, March 26, 7:30 p.m., $55-$129, 901 Broadway, Tacoma, 253.591.5890

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