When Bob Seger recorded “Old Time Rock & Roll” in the late 1970s, he was looking back at the days of Chuck Berry and Elvis Presley from an era defined by disco.
Later, as Seger became a legacy act selling memories on the road, the song’s nostalgia doubled back on itself to celebrate the singer’s own beginnings.
And now? In his sold-out show Saturday at the Forum, “Old Time Rock & Roll” seemed to imagine a future in which even Seger’s later years are memorialized as a better time.
“Call me a relic / Call me what you will,” he growled as he has for the last four decades — only this time the song wasn’t fighting back against that characterization.
At 73, Seger says his current tour will be his last; he’s got dates scheduled with his trusty Silver Bullet Band through early June, when he’ll play three nights in his hometown of Detroit.
And though nothing about Saturday’s two-hour concert suggested he couldn’t keep going if he wanted to, the gig felt like Seger’s acknowledgement that he’d done all he came to do.
Typically unflashy in a black T-shirt and jeans — not to mention the signature sweatband he pulled around his head after two songs — Seger was a man at peace with the world’s having moved on (again) from the soulful heartland rock he did as much as anyone to perfect.
In this way his farewell show differed from those by some of the other veteran pop stars who’ve recently said they’re hanging it up.
Unlike Elton John (who last month made sure to point out that Lady Gaga had come to pay her respects at Staples Center), Seger didn’t seem concerned with whether his songs are connecting with the generation behind him. And unlike Paul Simon, he didn’t futz with his arrangements to emphasize the tirelessness of his curiosity.
The songs didn’t need messing with. “Mainstreet,” “Turn the Page,” “The Fire Down Below” — they’re all as sturdy today as they were when Seger wrote them.
But they also reflect a small-c conservatism he demonstrated further by introducing “Mainstreet” as a twentysomething’s recollection of his teen years and “The Fire Inside” as a “song I wrote in the mid-’90s about the mid-’80s.” (Delightfully, he identified the latter as a selection from his greatest-hits CD rather than from the studio album with which it shared a title.)
Seger did nod to the occasion with a couple of rarities he said he was dusting off after decades in storage, including his loping rendition of Rodney Crowell’s “Shame on the Moon” and “You’ll Accomp’ny Me,” for which he softened his famously raspy voice.
Still, he was hardly using this opportunity to tweak anybody’s ideas about Bob Seger before he calls it a wrap.
Near the end of the show, he did “Against the Wind” and “Hollywood Nights” and “Night Moves,” then finished a second encore, inevitably, with “Rock and Roll Never Forgets” — yet another ode to the kind of music that just soothes his soul.
And if his taste makes him a fuddy-duddy in 2019? That’s OK. He knows how he’ll be remembered.