Bob Seger bids farewell with hit after hit at Erwin Center show
When Bob Seger kicked off the ′80s with a tour that stopped at the Erwin Center in April 1980, his return in 1983 and again in 1986 suggested a pretty dependable pattern of opportunities to see the powerhouse Midwestern rocker. Who'd have guessed it would be not three years till the next show here, but but 33 years?
Thursday night, Seger made what will be his last stop at the University of Texas campus venue, set to be replaced in the early 2020s by a new arena nearby. Seger recently announced that his current tour will be his last; as it is, the Austin date was one of many postponed for more than a year after the singer developed serious back problems.
This last chance was worth the wait, though. The Erwin Center crowd responded with roaring, adoring approval as Seger rolled out hit after hit from his 1970s-80s heyday, merging between rockers such as "Old Time Rock & Roll," "Hollywood Nights" and "Roll Me Away" with classic ballads including "Mainstreet," "We've Got Tonight" and "Still the Same."
Like that song says, Seger still aims high, even if he knows he can't quite reach the mark of his younger days. At his peak, Seger was probably the best singer in rock & roll, which makes the aging process more noticeable because he had a good ways to fall. He sings extraordinarily well for 73, and he still gives the audience all of his energy, constantly pushing them on with fist pumps and wide smiles, even as it's clear the years have caught up with him.
He has an ace in the hole, though: the songs, which have gotten even better with age. Seger's catalog is deep enough that he can play almost two dozen songs without straying far from the hits everybody knows, and the nearly sold-out house frequently sang the choruses back to him, much to his delight. Occasional forays into deeper cuts revealed some of the show's best moments, especially "The Fire Inside," the title track to a 1991 album that arrived as his record sales began to decrease.
Another ace: his 14-piece backing crew, which included longtime Silver Bullet Band veterans Chris Campbell (bass, since 1969!), Alto Reed (saxophone), Mark Chatfield (guitar) and Craig Frost (keyboards) as well as newer ringers Rob McNelley (guitar), Greg Morrow (drums) and Jim "Moose" Browne (guitar/keyboards), plus backing singers Shaun Murphy, Laura Creamer and Barbara Payton, and a four-piece horn section: trumpeters Bob Jensen and Mark Byerly, trombonist John Rutherford and saxophonist Keith Kaminski.
The show's momentum flagged a little down the home stretch, but everyone in the house knew it was a setup for an encore that few living artists could match. Seger surprised by starting with 1994's "In Your Time," which never charted in the U.S.; but he followed with a one-two punch of "Against the Wind" and "Hollywood Nights" before departing and quickly returning with an equally powerful double-shot: "Night Moves" and "Rock & Roll Never Forgets."
It was "Night Moves" that, not surprisingly, stirred up the deepest emotional reactions. The song that broke Seger through to the masses in 1976, it remains the cornerstone of his very accomplished career. When the quiet passage arrived near the end of the tune, the longing for days gone by felt chill-bumps-deep as he delivered that immortal couplet: "Ain't it funny how the night moves/ When you just don't seem to have as much to lose."
It's clear Seger feels autumn closing in on this final run as one of classic rock's last major players. A tender cover of Bob Dylan's "Forever Young" was like the Oscars' "In Memoriam" segment: On the video screen behind him, photos rolled by of recently departed legends including Leonard Cohen, B.B. King, Aretha Franklin, Chuck Berry, Gregg Allman and Prince. Especially touching were shots of Seger across the decades with good friends Glenn Frey (of the Eagles) and Tom Petty, who played the Erwin Center on what became their final tours in 2016 and 2017, respectively.
Opening the show was Austin's own Sunny Sweeney, whose half-hour set of rockin' country music with a five-piece backing band won over early-arrivers. Sweeney has played big shows in Austin before — she opened for Garth Brooks at Auditorium Shores during South by Southwest 2017 — but it clearly meant a lot to her to play the Erwin Center. "I've literally gone to concerts here for the last 20 years," she said. "It's going to take awhile for this to sink in."
Bob Seger set list:
2. Still the Same
3. The Fire Down Below
5. Old Time Rock & Roll
6. The Fire Inside
7. Shame on the Moon
8. Roll Me Away
9. Come to Poppa
10. Her Strut
11. Like A Rock
12. You'll Accomp'ny Me
13. We've Got Tonight
14. Travelin' Man
15. Beautiful Loser
16. Turn the Page
17. Forever Young
18. Ramblin' Gamblin' Man
19. In Your Time
20. Against the Wind
21. Hollywood Nights
22. Night Moves
23. Rock & Roll Never Forgets