It’s oh, so fitting that Bob Seger and the Silver Bullet Band rolled into Amalie Arena Friday night blaring a Tom Petty song.
As with the late, beloved Petty, we’re heading someday toward a Bob Seger reckoning, where too many people won’t realize how good he was until it’s too late.
And unless you were there in Tampa on Friday, “too late” might have already come. This is Seger’s final tour, the last chance to hear the meat-‘n’-potatoes Michigan rocker howl at the moon one more time. For the sold-out crowd of nearly 17,000, it was one last chance to puff a little reefer in the rafters and work on a few night moves of their own.
That Seger strutted out to Petty’s American Dream Plan B rattling the stage, well, the message was loud and clear: This is it, now and forever. The page is all but turned.
Truth is, Seger’s only 73, still young enough to do this once or twice more, but you can sort of see why he’s handing in his badge. His rust belt voice is heavier than ever on the rust, a growl even when he’s speaking, much less crooning out a beloved ballad like We’ve Got Tonight -- or really much of anything requiring his upper-register roar of yesteryear. By the time he got to Hollywood Nights in the encore, he was more than happy to swing his mic out wide and let fans do the vocal heavy lifting.
Nevertheless, Seger sold every second he was out on that stage, flashing his toothy maw while blaring out a murderer’s row of heartland hits. He showed love to the band on the rug-cutting Shakedown and Still the Same, jittering and hallelujah-ing on the Brucelike The Fire Inside and Roll Me Away. And with a black headband wrapped around his silver mane, he thrust the Silver Bullet Band’s deepest, baddest bass into the guttural Her Strut.
He squeezed in a few deeper cuts, like the Rodney Crowell-penned Shame On the Moon, a song Seger guaranteed Tampa fans hadn’t heard in nearly 30 years. He said 1974’s wocka-stompa rocker Come to Poppa was inspired by the Southern soul he heard on the radio while growing up in Detroit. He kicked off his encore with a curious choice, In Your Time, the lone new original from his 1994 Greatest Hits album.
But his actual greatest hits, well, those remain timeless. Against all odds, that eternal Chevy pickup anthem Like a Rock actually sounded smoother thanks to the sandpaper in his voice. And that, coincidentally or not, was about the point where the show turned into karaoke night.
You’ll Accomp’ny Me, a song he hadn’t done in some 30 years preceding this tour, sounded fresh of the Flint factory floor, a peppy pick-me-up that fans and clearly dearly missed. Travelin’ Man and Beautiful Loser gave the Silver Bullets a meaty musical showcase, as did the insistent Turn the Page, with the ageless Alto Reed screaming out that all-time sad-sax solo.
“We keep going further and further back, folks,” Seger said, unleashing his band on that long and lonesome highway, leading to an extended, deafening standing O from the audience.
The thing about Seger’s farewell to Tampa is that it didn’t feel like much of one at all, especially late in the night. All the way up to the end, Seger was still barking and howling about being on the road again, running against the wind, working on his night moves eternal.
But his odometer's hitting high digits, and he knows it. He dedicated a cover of Bob Dylan's Forever Young to the Eagles' Glenn Frey and other rock friends he's lost in recent years -- including Tom Petty, whose photos he flashed on screen, leading to cheers from the Sunshine State crowd.
Just as the world gained new appreciation for Petty's catalog after his death, the same could happen one of these days for Seger, the bearded bard of blue-collar bars nationwide. To paraphrase his joyous closer, Rock and Roll Never Forgets, the rafters are still ringing for Seger, and the crowd is still swaying and singing along.
The way he pumped his arms in a giant, victorious V on that final euphoric note, you could tell he won't forget them, either.
Contact Jay Cridlin at [email protected] or (727) 893-8336. Follow @JayCridlin.