Bob Seger hit the gas as he turned for home.
It happened during – of all songs – “Like a Rock,” a beautiful piece of songwriting deadened by its decade-plus as a truck commercial and revived on stage. With his diminished voice warmed up and the sound finally dialed in, Detroit’s favorite son and his 14-piece Silver Bullet Band, which included three female singers, two keyboardists and anywhere between two and four guitarists and multiple percussionists depending on the song at hand, had their engines primed.
Up to this point – 11 songs into his 22-song, performance inside a nearly sold-out Nationwide Arena in Columbus – Seger had struggled with songs such as “Long Twin Silver Line” and “Fire Down Below.” He let the audience do some of the singing on the choruses, his four-piece horn section was under-miked and early on, multi-instrumentalist Alto Reed played one entirely inaudible saxophone solo; fortunately this was remedied by the time “Turn the Page” – Reed’s signature song – rolled around and the area lit up with cell-phone flashlights.
The show came 18 months after back issues forced a last-minute postponement of his previously scheduled Columbus show – and eventually, his entire 2017 tour. And though Seger was noticeably less powerful than he was during his 2015 visit, he was also was visibly happy to be performing on what he says will be his final outing. Seger pumped his fists in the air, emoted on the platforms that adorned each side of the sparse stage, smiled constantly and pointed exuberently at whichever of his players was taking a solo at a particular time.
His only break came during the instrumental segue between “Travelin’ Man” and “Beautiful Loser,” when ducked off stage for what was presumably a quick smoke and the band flexed its considerable muscles.
Every few songs Seger – in jeans, a black T and a black headband framing his short, white hair – would sit at the front of the stage with an acoustic guitar and lead a slimmed-down band in quieter fare. Those forays included the rarely played, Rodney Crowell-composed “Shame on the Moon,” a brilliant piece of breezy honky tonk that served as a nice breather and a most-welcome surprise in a concert that featured mostly expected – and also welcome – numbers.
This was two hours, one minute of beautiful nostalgia with most songs drawn from Seger’s ‘70s prime, save for one stop in the late ’60s on the always-welcome “Ramblin’ Gamblin’ Man,” a highlight, and occasional forays into the middle ’80s, such as on “The Fire Inside,” not a highlight.
But for every lowest-common-denominator tune such as “Fire,” “Old Time Rock & Roll” and “Her Strut,” another highlight, Seger has three incredibly poignant numbers including “You’ll Accomp’ny Me,” “Against the Wind,” “Night Moves” and “Hollywood Nights,” all played and all highlights.
The biggest surprise came deep into the set when Seger, seated at the piano, sung a gospel-tinged arrangement of Bob Dylan’s “Forever Young.” Placing the author on the Mount Rushmore of songwriters and dedicating the number to Glenn Frey and other recently departed musicians, Seger sung as passionately as he had all night as images of friends and colleagues including Leonard Cohen, B.B. King, Tom Petty, Prince and others in their early and late days, shone on the large screen behind the band, which, along with a generous light show, was the concert’s only nod to modern production values.
Seger’s own younger days flashed on the big screen during the final encore, “Rock and Roll Never Forgets.” And when he screamed incredulously that Sweet 16 has turned 73!, the crowd roared as they cheered Seger one final time. He said he wanted to go out before age took its toll; his timing seems to have been spot on.