Four songs into Bob Seger’s farewell performance in Atlanta, the friendly man sitting next to me – a first-time Seger concert attendee – proclaimed, “I already got my money’s worth!”
Seger had just completed a sturdy take on “Main Street,” complemented by Alto Reed’s chill-inducing saxophone, and a run-through of fiery blues-soul-rockers “Shakedown,” “Still the Same” and “The Fire Down Below,” so it’s understandable why a fan would feel satiated.
That Seger was even on the stage was a triumph, considering his forced postponement last fall after suffering from a ruptured disc that threatened his ability to perform (and for that matter, walk).
But the “Old Time Rock and Roll”-er, at 73, couldn’t have seemed sprightlier or more genuinely cheerful as he punched his fists in the air, stomped in place and edged his way into the corners of the stage to grin at fans packing the sold-out Infinite Energy Arena Saturday night.
His trademark rasp was in robust form throughout the nearly two-hour show and the massive Silver Bullet Band – which rivals Springsteen’s E Street Crew in ace musicianship – elevated everything from Rodney Crowell’s gentle sway-along “Shame on the Moon” to a searing double-shot of “Travelin’ Man” and “Beautiful Loser.”
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His stellar brass section – Reed, saxophonist Keith Kaminski, trumpeters Bob Jensen and Mark Byerly and trombonist John Rutherford – added buttery texture to his red meat rock songs; as captivating as Seger was during “Roll Me Away” with his two hands clasped at the mic and his eyes scrunched shut as he sang, Reed’s contrabass sax was equally intriguing.
Seger has always exhibited a Midwestern sweetness, and he amiably chatted with the crowd throughout the night. He reminisced about playing Atlanta since 1974 when he performed at “a little club” where he took to one small stage while Lynyrd Skynyrd hit a second one. The kicker? His named spelled on the marquee “Seagerd.”
After 56 years of live shows, people certainly know how to spell Seger correctly now. His longevity is a testament to what might appear to be a simple, catchy catalog of barroom favorites. But there is depth and beauty in Seger’s songwriting, from the plainspoken seduction of “We’ve Got Tonite” to the dark moodiness of “Turn the Page” to the proud self-affirmation “Like a Rock” (marred as it might be from those endless years in truck commercials).
Still sporting his shaggy professor look with hair the color of a storm cloud, glasses, a black Michigan T-shirt and jeans (plus the black headband he slipped on before “Old Time Rock and Roll”), Seger is as reliable to look at as he is to listen to.
He ably moved between acoustic guitar – sitting down a few times to play in between the more exhausting numbers – and piano, which he played vigorously on “The Fire Inside” and tenderly on “We’ve Got Tonite.”
And that Silver Bullet crew – bassist Chris Campbell, keyboardist Craig Frost, drummer Greg Morrow, lead guitarist Rob McNelley (who unleashed a stunning slide guitar solo on “Like a Rock”), guitarist/keyboardist Jim “Moose” Brown, guitarist Mark Chatfield and a backline of backup singers (Shaun Murphy, Laura Creamer and Barbara Payton) – thundered through Seger’s classics with ease.
The emotional highlight of the show centered around a well-chosen cover of Bob Dylan’s “Forever Young.” Seger recounted his close friendship with Glenn Frey of the Eagles (“He was a wonderful talent…I’ll miss him forever”) before engaging in a lovely piano-based version of the song that, as it soared, was accompanied by photos of other late greats – among them Leonard Cohen, B.B. King, Gregg Allman, Prince, Aretha Franklin and, garnering the loudest cheers, Tom Petty.
Seger succeeded mightily in shepherding fans down a path of musical memories one final time, and treated his farewell with a light touch.
“This is my final tour, but in 2020 I’ll be available for weddings,” he joked before “You’ll Accomp’ny Me,” his charming minor hit from 1980.
No doubt, he’d be the most in-demand wedding performer ever.
Opening for Seger on this and several other dates on the tour was Atlanta-bred duo Larkin Poe.
Sisters Megan and Rebecca Lovell are dues-paying road warriors and their efforts are apparent in their riveting live performances.
Their thick, blues-rock grooves – heard on new album “Venom & Faith” as well as past slow-burners such as “Trouble in Mind” – rocketed through the arena, with Rebecca’s fist-clenching yowls and gritty guitar and Megan’s angelic harmonies and heady lap-steel work effortlessly holding the audience’s attention.
Backed by a rhythm section, the Lovells unfurled a cover of “Led Belly” Ledbetter’s “Black Betty” (dedicated to their dad, in attendance) that was as polished as any arena act.
By mixing in another cover (“Preachin’ Blues”) and their own slinky “Bleach Blonde Bottle Blues,” Larkin Poe delivered a set that showcased their dynamic range.
The band is playing New Year’s Eve at Terminal West. Don’t miss an opportunity to see them in a small venue while you still can.