Monday, December 17, 2018

We've Got Tonight: As He Prepares to Turn the Page, Bob Seger Still Has the Fire Down Below -- Chicago Concert Review

Concert Review

Bob Seger 
& the Silver Bullet Band
w/ opening act Larkin Poe
Allstate Arena, Rosemont, IL
December 14, 2018

Before embarking on his latest outing with the Silver Bullet Band--which began in August 2017 and was initially slated to run through early this year--Bob Seger dubbed it his "Final Tour."

This followed the death, in January 2016, of Seger's old musical pal from Detroit, Glenn Frey of the Eagles, which came the same week as the passing of David Bowie.

Many other music luminaries--among them Prince, Merle Haggard, Leonard Cohen, Leon Russell, Glenn Allman, Chris Cornell, Chuck Berry, Glen Campbell and Walter Becker (of Steely Dan)--would also soon move on to the great gig in the sky.

Just a dozen shows into the 2017 tour, Seger suffered a ruptured disc requiring emergency back surgery, prompting the postponement--for what would be over a year--of all shows after one in Pittsburgh at the end of September.

Mere days later, one of Seger's closest contemporaries--Tom Petty--died suddenly. And in August of this year, the world lost another of Detroit's greatest musical icons, Aretha Franklin.

Several other rock acts who, like Seger, rose to fame in the 1970s, have recently called it quits,
announced plans to do so or are seemingly eyeing the checkered flag, from Elton John and Paul Simon to bands like Rush, Kiss and AC/DC.

So in one sense or another, an air of finality certainly hung above Seger's rescheduled show Friday night at Allstate Arena, especially as he delivered a rendition of Bob Dylan's "Forever Young" while images of Cohen, Petty, Prince, Berry, Allman, Aretha and Frey were projected on a video screen. (I found it a bit odd that Bowie wasn't included yet Stevie Ray Vaughan, who died in 1990, was.)

But more predominantly--particularly given what Seger presumably had to endure to ready himself to again perform for nearly 2 hours--it was a night that celebrated pride, perseverance, passion, longevity, loyalty to & from the fans, a communal sense of what Bob's songs have meant to those of us of a certain age--at 50, I was considerably on the young side of the Allstate crowd--sincerity and ultimately, good "Old Time Rock and Roll."

I've been a Seger fan for 40 years, specifically, as I remember my dad--a bit incongruously given that he was mainly a classical and Broadway fan--adding 1978's Stranger in Town album to our family record collection (and subsequently 1980's Against the Wind).

So my love for Seger has always centered around those two albums and the 1981 live collection, Nine Tonight, rather than--presumably for fans a tad older--1976's Live Bullet and Night Moves. (I'm now aware that Seger started releasing albums in the mid-60s and had his first hit with "Ramblin' Gamblin' Man" in 1969.)

Saxophonist & guitarist Alto Reed
At any point after 1978 I would have happily seen Seger & Silver Bullet live, but never did in the '80s or '90s.

For whatever reason, I really don't recall him touring in 1996, though I see on that he did.

But since Bob and his erstwhile band returned to the road in 2006, I have now seen him six times
across five tours (including Friday). So I pretty much knew what to expect, including that in terms of his voice and kinetic energy, Seger isn't what he was circa 1978 (as per YouTube).

And with his white hair, trusty headband and a bit of paunch, he isn't the epitome of what hipsters would consider hip.

So be it.

This wasn't really a night for hipness, myself included.

Opening act Larkin Poe
And even though opening act Larkin Poe enjoyably demonstrated the talents of a young pair of rock 'n rollin' sisters--neither named Larkin or Poe--in 2013 I saw Joe Walsh open for Seger and in 2014 the J. Geils Band. And Grand Funk Railroad opened a couple shows just last week, so with no disrespect to Larkin Poe, I could've taken even more of the old and unhip.

Taking the stage at about a quarter after nine--I would've loved had "Nine Tonight" kicked things off--Seger and his large band, including a horn section and trio of backing singers, opened with "Long Twin Silver Line."

A somewhat obscure album track from Against the Wind, this differed from what Seger had opened at his seven prior tour stops this year ("Face the Promise" mostly; "Shakedown" once).

I certainly didn't mind the variance, or the selection, but sonically, "Long Twin Silver Line" was something of a train wreck.

The right acoustic mix for the arena had yet to be sorted out, Bob was under-miked and it would take several songs for his voice to truly warm and it's certainly possible the battalion of musicians hadn't fully acclimated to the change of pace.

So while it was a thrill just to see Seger take the stage--especially given all that I alluded to at top--at first it was a bit of a bumpy ride.

But next up was my favorite song from Seger's deep catalog--"Still the Same"--and he's largely eschewed it on recent tours, so although things were still settling in I couldn't help but savor it.

You can see the setist here, with many of the usual suspects--"The Fire Down Below," "Mainstreet," "Old Time Rock and Roll," "Come to Poppa," "Roll Me Away," "Like a Rock"--but they all came off well, and I relished 1991's somewhat under-the-radar "The Fire Inside," with some terrific piano interplay between Craig Frost and a keyboardist whose name I apologetically can't ascertain.

More classic rock staples including "We've Got Tonight," "Travelin' Man"/"Beautiful Loser" and "Ramblin' Gamblin' Man'" rounded out the main set before Bob's almost boilerplate quartet of encore tunes:

"Against the Wind," "Hollywood Nights," "Night Moves" and "Rock and Roll Never Forgets."

Say what you want about Bob Seger, but he knows what works. The Allstate Arena was packed to the rafters, and pretty much singing along with every word.

Especially on "Turn the Page," which Seger said he wrote in an Eau Claire, WI, hotel room in 1970, when he'd have been all of 24 or 25.

And here he is, on the road again, here he is up on the stage, at the age of 73, as he reminded us during "Rock and Roll Never Forgets."

For those judging only on technical merit, it was certainly an imperfect night, with not only some sound issues, but a few flubbed lyrics, Seger playing an out-of-key or out-of-tune guitar on "Night Moves" and his once powerful voice far more sufficient than spectacular.

But while he isn't, physically, still the same, Bob Seger remains a passionate performer who gives the audience his all. And from what I could tell from the appreciative fans with and around me, that was enough to make for a memorable night.

On what well may be a Midwestern rock legend's last ever gig in Chicago.

I'm glad I was there.

And as Bob Seger his bandmates--some dating back nearly 50 years with him, like the wondrous and ageless sax man Alto Reed and bassist Chris Campbell--I couldn't help but surmise that Glenn and Tom and Gregg and Prince and Aretha, et. al., were also there to accomp'ny us.

For as we all turn the page, what's been written--literally and figuratively--by the musicians we cherish will never really fade.

Thanks for a wonderful ride, Mr. Seger.

Rock and roll never forgets and neither will I.

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