Saturday’s Bob Seger concert technically may have occurred just off the intersection of Stockton and Malone avenues at Vivint Smart Home Arena, but the entire evening evoked a “Mainstreet” kind of vibe for the capacity crowd in attendance.
Seger and his acclaimed Silver Bullet Band pulled into Salt Lake City for what is being billed as the final time — indeed, there are only 10 shows remaining on his farewell “Roll Me Away” tour — and treated Utah rock fans to an evening of timeless radio hits from the 1970s and ’80s.
Saturday’s show only marked Seger’s second appearance in the Beehive State in 39 years, but he made up for any perceived lost time with a setlist that both found audience members glued to their seats in reverent introspection and also forced them to their feet in uninhibited jubilation.
One of Seger’s strengths is his ability to craft a set that perfectly ebbs and flows through the range of nostalgic emotion his catalog affords, bringing the audience to a contemplative state one moment and full-on euphoria the next. An early example of this was the trifecta of “The Fire Down Below,” “Mainstreet” and “Old Time Rock & Roll.” The gritty, rocking “The Fire Down Below” raised the temperature of the proceedings considerably — with Seger having the crowd enthusiastically shout out the title every time it came up.” “Mainstreet” followed with the 74-year-old frontman sitting on a stool strumming an acoustic guitar, and fans singing the plaintive “down on Mainstreet” chorus as if by sheer force of habit, without any prompting whatsoever.
“Old Time Rock & Roll” rumbled forth with a sheer party atmosphere as the house lights came up to show everyone going crazy and compelling the first full standing ovation of the night throughout the arena.
It was a theme that continuously played itself out over the course of the 1-hour, 55-minute performance. Seger remains an energetic frontman, despite displaying a few signs of being a little long in the tooth. Dressed simply in blue jeans and a mostly black Harley-Davidson T-shirt (his one concession to stage fashion was donning a black headband four songs in), Seger worked all corners of the stage throughout the show.
When he was handling strictly the vocals, he would often punctuate lyrics with raised arms or fist pumps, or make perfectly timed air cymbal crashes along with the drumming of Greg Morrow. Seger also played piano on three songs and acoustic guitar on four — but notably not on signature hit “Night Moves.” More on that later.
In addition to the hits, Seger made sure to throw in a couple of songs that haven’t been part of his live set in ages.
“This is my last tour, my final tour,” Seger said at one point, just in case anyone in attendance wasn’t aware of the evening’s premise. “I wanted to play some songs you haven’t heard in a long time. This next song, we haven’t played in 28 years.”
That song proved to be “Shame on the Moon,” a hit single off his 1981 album “The Distance.”
Ironically, Seger gave almost the exact same introduction five songs later for “You’ll Accomp’ny Me,” except noting that he hadn’t played that song on tour for 30 years.
While Seger is the unquestionable main focus of the show, the 14-member Silver Bullet Band definitely warrants attention throughout the proceedings. With its backing vocals and horns section, in addition to all the regular instrumentalists, the Silver Bullet Band continually generates a wall of sound, providing the musical template for Seger to sing over in his trademark rasp. Especially spotlight worthy were the efforts of saxophonist Alto Reed and lead guitarist Rob McNelley, who each had numerous opportunities to showcase their skills in various solo spotlights.
Reed’s sax appeal was especially poignant in “Turn the Page.” There aren’t many great rock songs that are immediately recognizable by a restrained signature sax entry point — but that is clearly the case with “Turn the Page.” Seger noted that Reed had come up with the sax intro shortly after joining the band in 1973.
Other standout highlights during the show included “Come to Poppa,” “Her Strut,” the “Travelin’ Man”/”Beautiful Loser” segue, a cover of Bob Dylan’s “Forever Young” (complete with photos on the big screen of rockers we’ve lost in the past few years) and the main-set closing “Ramblin’ Gamblin’ Man,” the single which started everything off for Seger in 1969.
Seger handled his encores in an old-school format — doing two segments of two songs each. Employing the aforementioned pacing strategy, the first song of each encore was an acoustic number, followed by a huge, upbeat hit. The opening encore featured “Against the Wind” and “Hollywood Nights.”
The second encore set began with the classic “Night Moves.” This song really put Seger on the map nationally in 1976, and many a teenage boy has broken out in a cold sweat contemplating just what goes on “out past the cornfields where the woods got heavy.”
Some of the most powerful moments in “Night Moves” occur in the mid-song breakdown. This song is so essentially entrenched in the Seger fan DNA, that I was somewhat disappointed he didn’t play the acoustic guitar on it himself, as he normally does, instead turning that duty over to McNelley. A minor perfectionist quibble perhaps, but still, I couldn’t shake the letdown of not seeing Seger do that one more time. To further the example, it would almost have been like Elton John, who also recently played Vivint Arena on a farewell tour, having another band member take over on piano for him during “Your Song.”
Notwithstanding that one bobble, the show came to a rollicking conclusion with “Rock and Roll Never Forgets,” a joyful celebration of Seger’s lasting legacy.
Saturday’s show proved to be a fitting closing statement as Seger enters his final stretch of live performances. From here on forward, fans will have to be content with simply taking those old records off the shelf.
The Wild Feathers, a country-rock band from Nashville, Tennessee, opened the show with solid seven-song, 35-minute set. Highlights included “Stand By You,” a cover of Tom Petty’s “I Won’t Back Down” and “The Ceiling.”
TO SEE THE FULL SETLIST OF BOB SEGER AT VIVINT ARENA, CLICK HERE.