(October 22, 2019). At 74, Robert Clark Seger may be bringing his decades-long touring career to an end, but the energy he brought to Chicago’s United Center on Saturday night (Oct. 19) suggested a man who was at the beginning or peak of his powers.
The Hall of Fame rocker and his Silver Bullet Band played for nearly two hours, including two encores and a career-spanning retrospective of 22 songs, in front of a highly enthusiastic crowd of more than 23,000 fans who would have gladly stayed for a third encore given the chance.
Bob Seger has been at it for more than 50 years, so a Farewell Tour and retirement are certainly understandable and very well-deserved for a man whose introspective songs about love, women and just plain rock-and-roll have been entertaining generations of fans for decades.
In addition to the many memorable classics he played here, the white-haired, black headband wearing rocker from Detroit entertained Chicagoans with some impressive dancing, unexpected anecdotes about song origins, and several dedications to fallen icons and loved ones.
Seger kicked off affairs with a tune from his 2006 Face the Promise album called “Simplicity.” Then the nostalgic fun began with a personal fave, “Still the Same” – the 1978 top-five pop hit that drew the first of many appreciative cheers and standing O’s from the highly engaged crowd.
Next was the all-out blues of “The Fire Down Below,” followed by 1976’s “Mainstreet,” on which the familiar lead guitar hook of the original recording was interestingly replaced by a wailing saxophone. It was one of several surprising rearrangements of the tunes we had known and loved for years – and, in this case, it worked.
“Mainstreet” and several other of Seger’s biggest hits were sung in lower registers than the original recordings, including “Against The Wind,” “Old Time Rock & Roll” and “Night Moves” among them. The lower keys took away a bit of the songs’ original punch, but the move was understandable at this point in Seger’s career. And it didn’t seem to detract from the crowd’s enjoyment one bit.
Seger seemed to be having fun as well.
He danced during his signature “Old Time Rock & Roll,” the tour’s namesake “Roll Me Away,” and the funky “Come To Poppa,” a song that was written by Willie Mitchell and which recalled Seger’s earlier Muscle Shoals connections. The song’s title also took on a funnier context coming from the 74-year-old rocker.
Seger joked during the intro to “Like A Rock,” where he told of the song’s surprisingly carnal inspiration. He recalled writing it and being inspired by the memories of his late teenage years and the things that his body was capable of doing back then before giving a playful phallic gesture with his arm. And here we thought – or at least this writer did – that the “rock” was metaphorical for something less lascivious than what might have occurred below Seger’s belt.
Speaking of youth, and joking aside, Seger used “Forever Young” – a song written by Bob Dylan – to pay tribute to the many music legends we’ve lost over the past four years. As the band played the song, images of Prince, B. B. King, Chuck Berry, Leonard Cohen, Gregg Allman, Tom Petty, Aretha Franklin, and Seger’s good friend Glenn Frey flashed across the stage screen, with Prince, Petty and Frey drawing the largest crowd response.
Seger used another tune from Face the Promise for a surprising tribute – this one to the recently departed Democratic congressman Elijah Cummings, who had died two days earlier. Before dedicating the song “No More” to the late politician, Seger acknowledged him as a “great man from (Baltimore) Maryland” and noted Cummings’ strong contributions to the Civil Rights Movement.
It was a poignant and brave move on Seger’s part, particularly given the crowd’s older, more heartland-based demographic, which presumably skewed in a direction that might not have appreciated either the movement or Cummings, who only weeks before his death had drawn the ire of the current U.S. president. Still the mention of the black leader’s name drew noticeable applause.
Other dedications went to two special women in Seger’s life, including his mother (her favorite tune “We’ve Got Tonight”) and his wife (“You Take Me In”).
Some of the more memorable moments of the night included the eight-minute, all-out jam session that Seger and Co. created for the medley of two 1975 tracks, “Travelin’ Man” and “Beautiful Loser.” And, of course, the introspective “Turn The Page” never disappoints, as long as that sax is there (and it was).
The page was turned all the way back to one on “Ramblin’ Gamblin’ Man,” the title tune from Seger’s first album. Watching the enlarged image of the old Capitol Records vinyl 45 spin on the screen behind the band provided just the right nostalgic touch as they played the “Bob Seger System’s” first top-40 hit.
Seger took the time to acknowledge the rarely played status of some of his other hits, including 1980’s “You’ll Accomp’ny Me,” which surprisingly got the crowd riled up with its opening bars, and “Shame on the Moon,” Seger’s second-biggest chart hit and one the singer said he hadn’t performed here in 28 years. (Note: I don’t think Seger even acknowledges the song that became his biggest chart hit, the No. 1 “Shakedown” from 1987’s Beverly Hills Cop 2).
It was during “Shame on the Moon” that the folks seated a few rows ahead of us decided to celebrate Illinois’ recently passed legislation legalizing marijuana a little early (the law becomes effective Jan. 1). As the revelers passed a joint up and down at least two rows (there must have been ten people who puffed on it), I couldn’t help but wonder whether all of the partakers even knew each other – or if that even mattered.
As the song suggested, I guess we could just “blame it on midnight,” even if the clock hadn’t yet struck twelve when the partying began.
It was just about 11pm when Seger finished the night with the two encores, which were capped by the rollicking “Rock and Roll Never Forgets,” a tune that just about summed it up for Seger and his many loyal fans, many of whom knew that this would be the last time we’d see him perform live.
Indeed, we won’t forget Bob Seger, who put on a great show to cap an even greater career of touring here in the Windy City.
Thanks for these latest memories, Mr. Seger. Rock-and-roll will never forget you.
Bob Seger’s set list for the Chicago United Center on October 19, 2019:
- Still The Same
- The Fire Down Below
- Old Time Rock & Roll
- Shame on the Moon
- Roll Me Away
- Come to Poppa
- No More (Dedication to Elijah Cummings)
- Like a Rock
- You’ll Accomp’ny Me
- We’ve Got Tonight
- Travelin’ Man
- Beautiful Loser
- Turn the Page
- Forever Young
- Ramblin’ Gamblin’ Man
- You Take Me In
- Against the Wind
- Hollywood Nights
- Night Moves
- Rock and Roll Never Forgets
DJRob is a freelance blogger who covers R&B, hip-hop, pop and rock genres – plus lots of music news and current stuff! You can follow him on Twitter @djrobblog.
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