Bob Seger, fans rock Palace's final show

Adam Graham
The Detroit News
Bob Seger performs for a sold-out Palace of Auburn Hills for the venue's final event Saturday night.

Bob Seger and the Silver Bullet Band wrote the final chapter on the Palace of Auburn Hills Saturday night, finishing it off with a huge exclamation point with a triumphant, sold-to-the-rafters rock and roll celebration.

"What a great building this has been for 27 years!" Seger said, during the latter half of the two-hour concert. He shared a few memories of shows he saw in the building as a fan, including outings by Eric Clapton (when Stevie Ray Vaughn joined him on stage) and Michael Jackson. "A lot of great shows. Thanks for everything, Palace. We love ya!"

It's been 29 years, but who's counting. And Saturday's show was so robust, so positive, so fun and so representative of Seger, his stature and everything he stands for that he could have said it's been a great 45 years and it wouldn't have mattered. What mattered was Seger gave it his all, and at 72 years old, he still has plenty to give.

He left most of it out there on the stage, sweating through two T-shirts and two headbands but never appearing winded or out of breath. And he sounded as strong as he has in years, belying his age, while the spectacular Silver Bullets — all 13 of them, when grouped together with the Motor City Horns — roared behind him.

And then there was the Palace, still shinin’ brightly, looking and sounding no worse for wear after 29 years. Do we really have to say goodbye to this building? It has stood proud over the years – owners never let it go to waste and always pumped money back into it – and even though it would seem to make sense to keep it open as a concert venue, the powers that be have deemed otherwise. So this was goodbye, like it or not. But when Seger sang “why don’t you stay?” during “We’ve Got Tonight,” it was hard not to look around the building and drink it all in one last time.

Alas, it was not the same Palace as it has always been. The Detroit Pistons retired jerseys and championship banners had all been removed from the rafters, replaced by just one banner, which recognized Seger’s 17 sellouts in the building. Meanwhile, at concession stands around the arena there were reports of beer and liquor shortages even during opening act Nancy Wilson – no more events, no more booze, apparently, and no one was making a run up to the party store to grab another round.   

But if you’re gonna throw a going away party for a building, you couldn’t have asked for much more than Saturday night’s concert. Seger spoke from the stage about his Detroit and Ann Arbor roots and how he’s been an Oakland County resident most of his life, earning a big roar from the crowd. When he ducked backstage to switch out shirts during the transition from “Travelin’ Man” to “Beautiful Loser,” he came back sporting an Olde English D on his shirt and cap, which also received a big pop from the fans. This wasn’t an out-of-towner trying to endear himself to the crowd, there was nothing fake or phony about it. Seger is ours, just as the Palace is ours, and no other artist could have closed the building in this fashion. It had to be Seger, and he made it an unforgettable night.

The setlist was familiar but rock solid, opening with "Roll Me Away" – “alright Palace, one last time, let’s roll!” Seger said as he introduced the song – and winding through classics like “Old Time Rock and Roll,” “Main Street” and “Like a Rock.” “Busload of Faith,” his Lou Reed cover that was just released Friday, got a workout in the middle of the set, and “Face the Promise” – the title track from his 2006 album – fit in surprisingly well among the time-tested hits he was rolling out like he was handing out candy.

He introduced several songs as tracks from his “Greatest Hits” set, like they had no life before that and just appeared on the compilation. But Seger is an artist defined by his “Greatest Hits”; the 1994 album is a 10-plus million seller, and the entry point into his catalog for many casual fans. And he wasn’t there on Saturday to roll out deep cuts or album tracks, he was there to play the hits, one after another, and that’s what he did.

By the time “The Fire Inside” hit, the band was roaring, and it was clear this was a special night, one that found the band pumping like a marathon runner entering his zone. The band is 12 shows into its current tour and is right in the pocket, and the trimmed-down Seger is in the best shape he’s been in in years. That allowed him to move all over the stage, point at his bandmates during their solos, dart from one end to the other, reach toward the sky and pump his fists in the air like an enthusiastic fan. There are wilder frontmen, more active stage performers, but few are as endearing as Seger, who can lean into a vocal or crouch to the floor for emphasis and you’re with him every step of the way. His everyman appeal grounds him, his talent makes him remarkable.  

The biggest of the big guns were saved for the double encore: That’s where we got “Against the Wind,” “Hollywood Nights,” “Night Moves” and of course, the all-too-appropriate closer, “Rock and Roll Never Forgets.” As fans began to shuffle out of the building, a highlight reel of clips from the Palace from over the years played on the venue’s video screens, showing concert highlights and classic Pistons moments, all scored to Seger’s “The Famous Final Scene,” the closing track of 1978’s “Stranger in Town.” And people stopped in their tracks, turned toward the screens and cheered the big moments: Gordie Howe skating out onto the Palace ice in a Detroit Vipers jersey, the Bad Boys winning back-to-back championships, ’90s Seger walking through the building’s hallways and hitting the stage.

This is how you close a building, this is how you wrap things up, this is how you say goodbye. Come back baby, rock and roll never forgets.