That’s how it went down. And there Seger was, introducing “one last new song” before taking a seat at center stage with an acoustic guitar. He told a short story about hearing some song on the radio, feeling a connection to it and recognizing that he had to cover it — and, you know, as it turns out, “Woody Guthrie wrote the lyrics,” he said. With that, he jumped into a loving cover of “California Stars,” a song first popularized by the Wilco–Billy Bragg collaboration “Mermaid Avenue.” The lyrics are Guthrie’s, but the melody belongs to Wilco frontman Jeff Tweedy (and his late, former bandmate Jay Bennett).
But on Tuesday, everything belonged to Seger — the unlikely folkie, the old-time rock ‘n’ roller, the original dad-rocker and the pride of the Midwest who gave Chevy its most recognizable ad campaign (“Like a Rock”) and reps Michigan better than any of its sports teams or automobile brands.
A Bob Seger show doesn’t have the touchstones a casual classic rock fan might assume it would. It’s not like a Springsteen show, where the fans live and die with every breath the artist takes. It’s also not like a Who or Stones show, where the artists pretend they’re maintaining the style and bravado and talent they displayed four or five decades ago.
Seger has his own aesthetic; He goes his own way. He gets it that he’s not “cool” or in with the kids. But he also gets that he released seven consecutive platinum records back in the day, and his fanbase isn’t one to be taken for granted. This is the man behind “Old Time Rock & Roll” and “Night Moves,” “Mainstreet” and “We’ve Got Tonight,” “Like a Rock” and “The Fire Down Below.”
And “Get Out of Denver,” of course — a song that was covered by Springsteen on his last swing through the Mile High City.
On Tuesday, Seger got things started with John Hiatt’s “Detroit Made” and Otis Clay’s “Trying to Live My Life Without You,” which Seger introduced by saying, “We’re going to do a funky song, a Memphis song.” Sporting a casual, all-black wardrobe, Seger fronted the humongous Silver Bullet Band that included four horns, three backup singers, two guitarists, a bass, sax, drums and keys. And as Seger switched from rock ragers to R&B jams to plaintive ballads, the band was with him at every turn.
At the end of “Trying to Live My Life Without You,” Seger yelled “SILVER BULLET!” and raised his hands in the air like a testosterone-fueled, if slightly nerdy, prize fighter. Later in the evening he acknowledged, “I’ll be 68 in May.” And while Seger has fully embraced his old-dudeness — with flowing gray hair, glasses and old-man dance moves to spare — he didn’t miss a note on Tuesday.
After a “sing-along-if-you-feel-like-it” “Fire Down Below,” Seger put on a black athletic sweatband, only adding to the cool/not cool factor. But sweatband be damned, that’s when the show really fired up. Out came a sax-fronted “Mainstreet” and an all-too-familiar “Old Time Rock & Roll” that brought the fun-loving house to its feet. Seger told a fun story about opener Joe Walsh: “I was texting my wife earlier: ‘It’s so cool. I’m listening to Joe Walsh play ‘Rocky Mountain Way’ in Denver.'” Seger threw out a couple new songs, including a solid power ballad called “All of the Roads” and the aforementioned cover of Wilco’s “California Stars.”
And then came “Like a Rock.” And while that song is likely the most-heard song in Seger’s catalog, and as potent as it sounded on Tuesday night, it didn’t compare to the weight conveyed when the artist sat at the piano for “We’ve Got Tonight.”
“We’ve Got Tonight” is one of the few late-’70s ballads that has aged this remarkably well. The song is subtle in its immediacy, but as its sweeping crescendos will emphasize, it’s also highly dramatic. And when Seger starts it out live, with only him on the piano before being joined by the whole Silver Bullet madness, the song becomes even more moving.