Tuesday, April 05, 2011

Bob Seger's Old Time Rock And Roll Never Forgets to satisfy, but Still The Same setlist could stand to Turn the Page -- Concert Review: Bob Seger

Photo Credit: Darren Breen / Grand Rapids Press
Concert Review

Bob Seger and the Silver Bullet Band
Van Andel Arena
Grand Rapids, MI
April 2, 2011
(Chicago area show at Allstate Arena on May 14)

"You are here because you want the real thing. So let's bring it on. Bob Seger and the Silver Bullet Band!"

With those words, the announcer effusively introduced Seger and his erstwhile band...

...in 1975, as recorded on the excellent Live Bullet album released the next year.

But the sentiment still rings true today, and in fact was referenced in a pre-show announcement at the Van Andel Center in Grand Rapids on Saturday night. While Seger was never as distinctive as American contemporaries like Springsteen, Browne, Petty, Joel and Zevon, he turned being solidly satisfying into an art form. And though the song "Like A Rock" was forever ruined by being used in a commercial for pickup trucks, in a way, it is definitive of Seger himself. As a songwriter, singer, musical artist, concert performer and, as far as one fan can tell, decent human being, the man who still calls the Detroit area home is the real thing in a world increasingly overpopulated by artifice.

Certainly, Seger became quite popular in the late '70s--and perhaps not coincidentally, was the most populist among the aforementioned artists--but I don't know if he ever was really "hip" (whatever that means). And although in 2011, at the age of 65, he instantly sold out the 12,000 seat Van Andel Center, I texted a friend that--and I say this endearingly and inclusively--I felt like I was at a convention of old, ugly people.

But it was a fun, rip-roaring convention. Although no longer as fiery and kinetic as he once was, and a bit less forceful of voice, Seger and band--all told there were 15 people on stage--sounded sufficiently grand in delivering 140 minutes of greatest hits. Though he likely wrote "Old Time Rock and Roll" in homage to Chuck Berry and other revered pioneers, Seger has come to embody what he's singing about as well as anyone. Mining his deep songbook of AOR classics, Seger roared through his first hit, "Rambling Gambling Man," supplied goose bumps on a singalong "Turn The Page," brought added sagacity to "Against the Wind" and saw the Silver Bullet rip the "Travelin' Man"/"Beautiful Loser" combo (and particularly the segue) to shreds.

Bob never introduced the band members, but I presume all the core players onstage go back with him to the '70s, and the wonderfully named saxophonist, Alto Reed, sounded great while still looking ultra cool for a guy who must also be in his sixties.

While Grand Rapids might not sound like the coolest place on Earth to travel for a concert--especially on a weekend when my friend Paolo went to Lollapalooza in Santiago, Chile--I really enjoyed my visit (I'll be writing an overall recap soon) and would take seeing Seger over anyone Paolo saw in Chile.

And we even got a special guest. Before the last song of the main set, which had routinely been "Katmandu" on this tour and Seger's last one, he introduced fellow Detroiter Kid Rock, who came out to a huge ovation and dueted on "Real Mean Bottle," a track they recorded together on Seger's last album.

But when Bob didn't bother keeping the Kid onstage to A) sing "Katmandu" with him, which was omitted, B) sing "Born Free," Kid Rock's recent Seger-soundalike single or C) accompany him on an encore, it exacerbated the one problem I had with the show. Mainly that it was a bit too predictable, and at times, almost perfunctory.

Photo Credit: Karen Waite / Advance Newspapers
I know Seger is 65 and yes, he demonstrated that he still clearly knows how to put on a satisfying show for an adoring crowd. I also know he's never been overtly political, and in an arena named for an arch conservative co-founder of Amway, I wouldn't expect him to be. But there has long been considerable societal commentary amidst the lyrics of his best work, and I think he missed the chance to heighten his current relevance by playing things a bit close to the vest.

In addition to doing another song or two with Kid Rock, rather than hustling him off the stage to do the same pre-scripted encore--albeit one including four phenomenal songs--I also would have liked to see Seger take more of a detour from the very similar setlist he played on his 2006-07 tour (the only other times--in Chicago & New York--I've seen him).

This is what he played in Grand Rapids on Saturday; this was the setlist from when I saw him in January 2007 at Madison Square Garden. Except for songs from his then-new Face the Promise album, it's pretty much the same. Which is OK; it's full of hits and he played them well. But how about "Feel Like A Number," a great song of aggrieved affirmation as relevant today as when first released in 1978, or perhaps pulling "Still The Same," out of mothballs and dedicating it to Wall Street and Washington. Or even just re-ordering some of the hits. (It might seem silly to presume most of the crowd had also seen him on the last tour, but everyone I spoke to had.)

Stuff like that would have made an excellent concert by old men playing old hits feel that much more current and resonant, and along with another choice duet with Kid Rock, might have raised a @@@@ show into one meriting @@@@@.

But you can see for yourself; Seger and the Silver Bullet Band are due at the Allstate Arena in Rosemont on May 14. Come back baby, rock and roll never forgets.

Surprisingly, given the number of cameras in the audience, there aren't many clips from the show on YouTube yet. Below is one of Bob Seger and Kid Rock doing "Real Mean Bottle," albeit with lousy audio, and under that is an abbreviated and distant video of "Turn The Page."

No comments: