May 12, 2011 at 1:00 am

Bob Seger brings huge, critically acclaimed set list to Palace

Bob Seger (Brandy Baker/The Detroit News)

If this spring's tour is indeed meant to wind down Bob Seger's long, almost 50-year career as a live performer, the veteran rocker is looking awfully frisky, performing a marathon 25-song set in most cities with his Silver Bullet Band.

"Defying the physics of his nearly 66-year-old frame" — noted the Houston Press, of Seger's show there April 30.

"As the show goes on, he only seems younger and stronger, working his way from playing guitar on a stool, to the piano, to, most often, simply dancing at the mic" — wrote Danny Alexander in the Pitch, critiquing the May 5 Kansas City concert. "It's hard to imagine the young Seger having much edge on this man's energy."

In an age of digitally enhanced vocals, backing track sweeteners and dog-and-pony show theatrics, it's heartening to see that the outstate press appreciates that Seger's energetic live show is as old school as it gets. Younger reviewers, particularly, are used to all sorts of technical subterfuge, hiding the fact that many performers aren't quite as road-tested as they should be.

That's never been a problem for Seger, who performs a three-night hometown stand starting Tuesday night at The Palace of Auburn Hills. Since the early 1960s, he's played every size venue from high school cafeteria to major arena, repeatedly.

The result of those years of seasoning is what you see on this tour; a deceptively casual-looking, gray-haired guy in jeans and T-shirt strolling out onto a bare-bones set. Then he opens the mic on that big, sinewy voice, the band kicks in and the sheer power and heart of that sound resonates in a way few contemporary acts can muster.

There's no problem recognizing the songs we've heard for years on the radio. The reviewer for the Nashville Scene described Seger's voice as sounding "as rough-hewn and golden-brown as it does when coming off the FM airwaves."

In this go-round, Seger isn't making it easy on himself. In his youth he didn't perform 25-song sets, and the fact that he's doing it now is remarkable. The big question, of course, is whether this tour, which winds up Memorial Day weekend in Grand Rapids, will indeed be his last.

It's easy to jump to the conclusion he won't go on, partly because of Seger's natural, lifelong tendency to sound elegiac. Even in his (relative) youth, he was reminiscing mistily about his teenaged "Night Moves" — with "autumn closing in" — as if he'd never again bust such a move.

He wasn't yet 30 when he wrote the world-weary touring lament "Turn the Page" — capturing the loneliness of the road so vividly it was almost painful to hear. But as Seger has said, for years he felt that he'd missed out on having a personal life, being out on the road so long.

Such lamentations act as an emotional counter-balance to the infectious, upbeat numbers he's doing, such as Chuck Berry's "You Never Can Tell (C'est La Vie)" and "Sunspot Baby."

On the eve of this tour, Seger sounded an optimistic note. "I'm feeling pretty strong and singing pretty good," Seger said. "The shows are always harder, so I'm keeping my fingers crossed. If I still feel like doing it at the end of May when we're done, then I don't know; we might do the rest of the country in the fall, hopefully with a new record."

That new album, his first collection of new music since "Face the Promise" in 2006, will include the song "Hannah," which Kid Rock and Sheryl Crow helped him record in a Nashville studio. He even ventures into Texas swing with "Hey Gypsy" — written as an homage to the late guitarist Stevie Ray Vaughan.

Seger hopes to finish the recording after winding up the spring tour — he doesn't like to play amphitheaters and is happy to sit the summer out.

Not only have the reviews for the past two months been strong, and Seger's health good — except for a brief bout a month ago with "flu-like symptoms" — he's even been complimented for the thing he feared the most, not forgetting the lyrics to so many of his complicated songs.

Not that he knows about those kudos. One thing you won't find Seger doing is reading his reviews, or lurking online to see what fans are saying. He doesn't even look at bobseger.com.

"I never go to that place" — Seger said, laughing. "I don't have time! I'm the songwriter. … I'm in the studio."

The songs

Bob Seger's set list from the opening night of his tour in Toledo, Ohio, was packed with hits and longtime Seger staples, as well as sprinkled with a few rarities:

"Roll Me Away"

"Trying to Live My Life Without You"

Originally written by Eugene Williams and first recorded by soul singer Otis Clay in the early 1970s.

"Her Strut"

Largely said to be inspired by Jane Fonda and her, well, strut.

"Mainstreet"

"Old Time Rock and Roll"

Made famous by Tom Cruise in "Risky Business," of course, and recently butchered by Paul McDonald on "American Idol."

"Downtown Train"

Seger's newest single, a cover of Tom Waits' 1985 original.

"Ramblin' Gamblin' Man"

The first song on Seger's 1969 debut album of the same name.

"C'est La Vie"

Seger's cover of Chuck Berry's original "You Never Can Tell" was released on his "Greatest Hits" album at the same time Berry's version was experiencing a revitalization in "Pulp Fiction."

"Feel Like a Number"*

"Good for Me"

"Days When the Rain Would Come"#

"Travelin' Man"

"Beautiful Loser"

*Dropped

#Added

"Nutbush City Limits"

The opening track on Seger's "Live Bullet" is a cover of Ike & Tina Turner's 1973 original.

"Come to Poppa"

An album track from "Night Moves" that Seger is performing for the first time in years.

"It's Your Thing"

Isley Brothers cover, performed by Seger's backup singers.

"Gets Ya Pumpin'"

Track from Seger's 2009 release, "Early Seger Vol. 1."

"Betty Lou's Gettin' Out Tonight"

"We've Got Tonight"

Seger dedicated the song, from 1978's "Stranger in Town," to his daughter on her 16th birthday at a recent Atlantic City tour stop.

"Turn the Page"

"Sunspot Baby"

"Horizontal Bop"

"Katmandu"

"Against the Wind"

"Hollywood Nights"

One of 11 songs from Seger's 1981 live album, "Nine Tonight," included in the set. ("Live Bullet" only had six songs included in the set.)

"Night Moves"

Named Rolling Stone's No. 1 single of the year in 1977.

"Rock and Roll Never Forgets"

Bob Seger & the Silver Bullet Band

7:30 p.m. Tuesday, 7:30 p.m. May 19 and 8 p.m. May 21

The Palace of Auburn Hills

6 Championship Drive, Auburn Hills

Tickets $69 — six-ticket limit

Call (248) 377-0100

Ticketmaster.com

swhitall@detnews.com

(313) 222-2156

“I used to smoke five packs of cigarettes a day,” starts Bob Seger as he ... (Brandy Baker / The Detroit News)