SAGINAW -- Resuming its Final Tour after a 12-day holiday break, Bob Seger and his Silver Bullet Band were, as the song says, still the same.
And that's a good thing.
Those looking for any kind of cloying emotion from what the 73-year-old Rock and Roll Hall of Famer says will be his last live shows will be disappointed. Rather, Seger and company are doing what they've always done best -- hit the stage, push down the pedal and go, in this case for a high-octane two hours and 22 songs Thursday night, Jan. 3, at the Dow Event Center, a night filled with the expected brand of old time rock 'n' roll and a few welcome surprises.
The show was actually something of a ringer on the Final Tour. A relatively recent addition (less than a month ago), the building -- a tight, low-ceilinged and loud old school venue -- is one of Seger's stated favorites, with an in-your-face ambience that's as much club as arena. That it's not far from his suburban Detroit home also helped, allowing Seger to make numerous references to his home state, including a "Michigan's got the very best summertime" shout-out during "Night Moves," a nice sentiment on a chilly January night.
Seger and the Silver Bullets -- up to 14 on stage at a time, including three backing vocalists and the four-piece Motor City Horns section -- clearly fed off the sold-out crowd's energy. "Long Twin Silver Line" got things off to a roaring start, with Seger, who had to halt his 2017-18 Runaway Train Tour to undergo spinal surgery, sounding robust and looking joyous, not to mention comfortable in his black T-shirt, blue jeans and headband. The show mixed rockers ("The Fire Down Below," "Old Time Rock & Roll," "Roll Me Away," "Her Strut," "Ramblin' Gamblin' Man") with mid-tempo favorites "("Still the Same," "Mainstreet," "You'll Accomp'ny Me"), the troupe sounding like it had played the night before rather than nearly two weeks ago.
The night also featured the first-ever performance of "No Man's Land," a mid-tempo track from his Grammy Award-winning 1980 album "Against the Win," which he followed with his hit version of Rodney Crowell's "Shame on the Moon" from 1982's The Distance, returned to the setlist for the first time in 27 years. "Since I'm retiring soon I figured we better roll out some of the ones we've never played," explained Seger, who's also been opening some shows with his chart-topping "Beverly Hills Cop II" hit "Shakedown." "I'm pulling 'em out. Now's the time."
Seger -- who's expected to stretch the Final Tour, including some Detroit area dates, into the summer and perhaps beyond -- did allow for some nostalgia and sentiment on Thursday. He accompanied some of the songs with video screen montages of vintage images and lingered a bit longer on stories about "Like a Rock," "Her Strut" and "Turn the Page." He dedicated "We've Got Tonight" to his late mother, explaining that it's her "favorite song I ever wrote," while a cover Bob Dylan's "Forever Young" was an homage to the late Eagles' founder Glenn Frey, a close friend, and "some other people that we lost along the way," with photos of Tom Petty, Stevie Ray Vaughan, Prince, B.B. King, Aretha Franklin, Gregg Allman and Chuck Berry scrolling on the screen during the performance.
Nashville -based lead guitarist Rob McNelley, meanwhile, delivered one killer solo after another, including the soaring slide break on "Like a Rock" and the scorching bridge section between "Travelin' Man" and "Beautiful Loser," the latter of which Seger sang closer to its 1975 recorded version than to the following year's Live Bullet. Saxophonist Alto Reed also lit things up on a few of the songs, particularly his showpiece "Turn the Page."
The familiar encore sets -- "Against the Wind" and "Hollywood Nights," "Night Moves" and "Rock and Roll Never Forgets" -- offered the best goodbye of all, indelible classics that spoke to a legacy that will linger well past Seger's final show -- whenever that comes.
"In 2020 I'll be available for weddings," Seger quipped early on. "Keep me in mind." Rest assured that more than a few of the Saginaw faithful would jump at that opportunity.
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