Toward the end of his farewell tour date Tuesday at the Rockland Trust Bank Pavilion, Peter Frampton unspooled an anecdote about a productive day of songwriting he enjoyed while vacationing in Nassau, back in 1974.
He wrote the bulk of two future hits that day, the guitarist explained, beginning with one of his biggest, “Show Me the Way.” Then he veered into improv comedy, playing the parts of two befuddled concertgoers trying to remember whether he’d already played that song on this night.
In fact, he had played it, as the fourth song of the set, first of the evening to feature the “talk box” guitar effect with which Frampton remains inextricably linked. For a household-name rock star, Frampton has built a long career on a thin sliver of opportunity, the fading memory of a brief period in the mid-1970s when his “Frampton Comes Alive!’ double album was a surprise blockbuster.
That album, of course, featured “Do You Feel Like We Do,” Frampton’s robust big-crowd sing-along, a classic of a very specific era of indulgence. It’s the one song that graying air guitarists and smiling young couples alike were citing as they filed into the amphitheater.
Kicking off the classic-rock theme, Jason Bonham’s Led Zeppelin Experience opened the show with a faithful tribute to that band. Bonham, son of the late drummer John Bonham, acknowledged that, as a child, he was not particularly impressed with his dad’s group: They weren’t the Beatles.
Before the affable Frampton popped his timeless question, he and his estimable bandmates had other aspects of the leader’s career to contemplate. At 69, this is his last tour; he has been diagnosed with a progressive muscle disorder.
There was no shortage of brawn in the set list, which opened with “Something’s Happening,” one of several rock songs from Frampton’s early solo career immortalized in live versions on “Frampton Comes Alive!” Befitting a farewell gig, the big screen behind the band displayed a chronology of supersize scrapbook photos: schoolboy Frampton, hippie heartthrob Frampton, receding hairline Frampton.
Playing the cherished 1954 Gibson Les Paul he long ago nicknamed the “Phenix,” Frampton reminded fans that he was originally considered more of a guitar dazzler in the British mold than a pop hitmaker. He turned a cover of Stevie Wonder’s “Signed, Sealed, Delivered I’m Yours” into a solo showcase before paying tribute to two late band members, drummer John Siomos and keyboardist Bob Mayo, with the jazz-chord ballad “Lines on My Face.”
The audience was happy to oblige when he asked that they respond to his rendition of a recent acoustic song “I Saved a Bird Today” as if he’d just played “Do You Feel Like We Do.” Better were the trio of songs from his latest album, a tribute to the blues, including a cover of “Georgia on My Mind” by Hoagy Carmichael, “my mother’s favorite.”
Frampton’s mostly instrumental cover of Soundgarden’s “Black Hole Sun” was another crowd-pleaser, as was the guitar duel with multi-instrumentalist Adam Lester during “(I’ll Give You) Money,” yet another “Frampton Comes Alive!” throwback. Many in the audience headed for the exits after hearing what they came for, “Do You Feel Like We Do.” They felt like the band did, sure, but only up to a point.
Those folks missed a solid encore: a two-song homage to Humble Pie, the band Frampton left to go solo, followed by a satisfying take on George Harrison’s “While My Guitar Gently Weeps”: “I look at the floor, and I see it needs sweeping.”
At the Rockland Trust Bank Pavilion, Tuesday night
CORRECTION: An earlier version of this review misidentified the band member who played guitar on “(I’ll Give You) Money.”James Sullivan can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @sullivanjames.