A show Seger’s fans will likely never forget.
Towards the end of Bob Seger’s Portland concert, the musician performed a touching cover of Bob Dylan’s “Forever Young,” dedicating it to his friend, the recently departed Glenn Frey. As Seger, seated in front a piano, belted out the seminal tune, a montage of dead musicians appeared on a screen behind him. As images of Stevie Ray Vaughan and Aretha Franklin flickered by, the moment began to feel like the annual death montage from the Academy Awards. Tom Petty and Prince received the loudest applause. Yet, for a musician in the midst of a farewell tour, it makes sense that the 73-year-old Seger is thinking about the end.
Apologies for the double entendre, but rockers like Seger are a dying breed. Tastes change and rock ‘n’ roll in its purest form, once the sound of rebellion and youth, is becoming an old person’s game. No one has risen up to replace Chuck Berry or Bruce Springsteen, rockers who look to the blues for their influence. Would a song like “Old Time Rock & Roll” be popular if it debuted today? That’s okay, things change. Rock ‘n’ roll may eventually die, after all.
Judging by the size of the crowd, a mix of boomers and folks who could have been extras on “Sons of Anarchy,” there is still a thirst for Seger’s songs. Of course, the notion that this is likely the final Seger tour helps sell concert tickets, but the proliferation of songs such as “Like a Rock” and “Against the Wind” via radio and commercials keeps Seger’s earworms in constant rotation. Sure, a last chance to see Seger, who had to postpone some dates following spinal surgery in 2017, including his Portland appearance, is impetus enough but, more importantly, his songs are indelible in the fabric of rock history.
For someone who had intense surgery that left him barely able to walk, Seger looked in fine form. Over the course of two hours and 22 songs, the Michigan native took the audience through his most beloved hits (“Still the Same”), blues-rockers (“The Fire Down Below”) and a few covers (“Busload of Faith” by Lou Reed), even touching on his 1968 debut (“Ramblin’ Gamblin’ Man”).
Seger’s voice sounded great, very similar to the vocals on his much-beloved ‘70s albums. Dressed in jeans and a black T-shirt, Seger spent most of the show clutching the mic and pacing the stage, punching the air with triumphant fists aloft. Backed by a 14-piece band, including longtime saxophonist Alto Reed, the concert was an evening of joyous, buoyant rock that often moved the audience to its feet, even those in the nosebleed seats. Though Seger never touched an electric guitar, he did perform quite a few songs, seated, on an acoustic one.
Beyond the musician’s exuberance, a gooey sweetness resided in the middle of the set. Seger regaled the audience with stories from his career and even took the time to personally introduce all 14 members of his band and talk about their history together. This was not rock ‘n’ roll as a confrontational act. Seger appeared happy to sing for us, even while unabashedly sporting a black sweatband.
Seger closed out the night with two short encores, finishing with the one-two punch of “Night Moves” and “Rock and Roll Never Forgets.” Although the former may be his crowning achievement, Seger decided to leave us with a simple message: even if you’re a bit older and less bolder, sweet sixteen is suddenly 31 and you’re weary from working all day, rock ‘n’ roll never forgets. This was a show Seger’s fans will likely never forget.