• Peyton Hoge
Bob Seger is polarizing, to say the least. As I learned leading up to and after the publication of our Bob Seger issue, everyone has an opinion on the man—ranging from worshipful reverence to outraged, spit-flecked fury whenever his name is brought up. Apparently Seger, more than any other musician, has memories indelibly attached to his music (particularly for those raised in the Midwest), and those memories can include a painful adolescence, boredom with one's hometown, drunk parents blasting "Old Time Rock and Roll." For my part, I always liked a handful of his songs and dismissed others as clichés... but the older I get, the more I realize they're clichés because they're true. Is there any other major rock performer whose work provokes such a range of strong emotion? Love him or hate him, Seger has gotta be doing something right.

And after doing a bit of research on him in preparation for the issue—digging through his back catalog and some of those wonderful early out-of-print records—and after seeing him at the Rose Garden on Saturday night, I kind of love the guy. I always loved "Hollywood Nights." I learned to love "Night Moves." And for every "Old Time Rock and Roll"—which I, like you, am completely sick to death of—Seger's got a stack of relatively under-appreciated gems like "The Fire Inside" and "Travelin' Man." Thin Lizzy covered "Rosalie." "Ramblin' Gamblin' Man" is a firecracker. There's more to Seger than meets the classic-rock-radio eye.

Bob is 67 now, and looks it. With white hair and grandpa glasses, it was obvious that many years have passed since his heyday. Still, he was full of enthusiasm and energy, and kept the embarrassing-uncle dancing down to a minimum. He wore a baggy black T-shirt, perhaps-too-tight black pants, and a headband—yeah, Seger rocked the headband—and looked more like an aging biker than an over-the-hill rock star chasing his youth. He doesn't seem particularly interested in artifice; he's old and is entirely comfortable with it.

The show on Saturday was just plain fun—everyone at the Rose Garden was stoked, not just for Seger but for opener Joe Walsh. (There's a certain cuddly, familiar warmth to seeing Walsh shove a plastic tube in his mouth and crank out the talk-box solo to "Rocky Mountain Way.") Seger played some new-ish songs, including covers of John Hiatt's "Detroit Made," and Wilco/Billy Bragg/Woody Guthrie's "California Stars." He played the big hits, the really big ones, and they all sounded fine. But the best moments came during the "Travelin' Man"/"Beautiful Loser" stretch (during which the Silver Bullet Band really showed their chops), and the hilarious sax solo to "Turn the Page," which is just so completely over-the-top, and so familiar, that it was clearly obvious how it became the all-time champ of "I'm-a-rock-star-and-being-on-the-road-is-tough" songs.

Seger remains fascinating to me, simply because of how ordinary he's remained over the years. This is one of the most successful musicians of all time, yet he seems entirely uninfected by the rock-star crazies. Perhaps he never got his critical due—the outpouring of attention to Scott Sparling's article in our Seger issue, a serious examination of his lyrics, is evidence that Seger fans aren't used to seeing him taken seriously. He's a fine showman, and capable of anchoring a crowd of 15,000, but there was never any point during Saturday's show that what you were seeing wasn't 100 percent Bob. Hearing his '70s hits is no doubt nostalgic for the middle-aged fans that filled up the Rose Garden, but Seger's music doesn't pretend in the existence of a fountain of youth. Find me a pop star over 40 who's comfortable doing the same. After such a long career in the spotlight, and on as large a stage as exists in Portland, to convey that kind of honesty all the way to the back rows is quite an achievement.