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REVIEW: Bob Seger at Chicago’s United Center

He wore dad jeans, a black sweatband across his forehead, and pumped his arms like he was not the guy singing the tunes, but was the guy listening to the guy singing the tunes like it was the greatest night of his life.

While the charming visuals reflected a rock star five decades into his career, the fact that Bob Seger can still play to more than 30,000 people at the United Center in 2014 is testament to a time in rock ‘n’ roll that is not coming around again. His song catalog, groomed over long fought years in bars and later the big rooms, ably filled a 100-minute show and has sustained a career that no longer needs to play to fashion trends in music or dress. Seger, 69, is the rare veteran musician his age who tours with an age-appropriate band, appears genuinely happy to show up for work, and doesn’t pretend he’s something he’s not.

Seger and his seven-member band churned through his hits, but didn’t treat them with particular reverence. The setlist covered songs from the mid-seventies onward, ignoring the decade prior when Seger worked his way through a succession of garage rock bands in Detroit. Even so, the band played like it was still hungry to sell songs to the back of the bar: “Hollywood Nights,” “Her Strut,” Steve Earle’s “The Devil’s Right Hand” and Willie Mitchell’s “Come to Papa” were barnburners while “Trying to Live My Life Without You” was his tribute to Memphis soul.

Seger pumped up the crowd like a high school football coach on the game day, but later settled in a chair to play acoustic guitar on quieter material like “Against the Wind” and, most unexpectedly, Wilco and Billy Bragg’s “California Stars,” which featured a four-man horn section.

Newer songs from “Ride Out” (Capitol), his first album in eight years, included “Hey Gypsy,” a Texas blues tribute to Stevie Ray Vaughan, and “Detroit Made,” a chugging rocker written by John Hiatt.

The evening’s most poignant moments were the simplest: Seger at a piano periodically throughout the night to sing ballads like “We’ve Got Tonight” and “Turn the Page.” His husky voice made each lyric intimate, addressed to no one in particular but everyone took it home.

Lucky ticketholders who showed up early got to see a reunion of the J. Geils Band. Frontman Peter Wolf wiggled, slid, boogied, and slithered across the floor wearing a sparkly black jacket and porkpie hat. The played blues jams, soul blasts and pop hits (“Centerfold,” “Must Have Got Lost”) with “Love Stinks” sending co-founder Magic Dick into locomotion on his harmonica and Wolf to his knees.

Setlist:

Roll Me Away

Tryin’ to Live My Life Without You

The Fire Down Below

The Devil’s Right Hand

Main Street

Old Time Rock and Roll

The Fireman’s Talkin’

Come to Poppa

Her Strut

Like a Rock

Travelin’ Man/Beautiful Loser

California Stars

Hey Gypsy

We’ve Got Tonight

Turn the Page

Detroit Made

Against the Wind

Hollywood Nights

Night Moves

Rock and Roll Never Forgets

Mark Guarino is a local freelance writer.