Monday, April 08, 2013

Like a Rock, and Life's Been Good: A Solidly Entertaining Evening of Old Time Rock and Roll by Bob Seger and Joe Walsh -- Chicago Concert Review

Concert Review

Bob Seger & the Silver Bullet Band
w/ opening act Joe Walsh
United Center, Chicago
April 6, 2013
(for Seger, and night as a whole)

"Here I am 
On the road again 
There I am 
Up on the stage"
 -- Bob Seger, "Turn the Page,"
written in 1970

Chalk one up for the old and unhip.

A little over a week ago, I saw a terrific show by Green Day, a band that has remained current for over 20 years, has impressively re-generated a teenage audience and has released three albums of new music in the last 8 months.

They failed to fill the Allstate Arena.

Though the crowd wasn't embarrassing, I'd guess the turnout to be about 11,000.

Saturday night, I saw Bob Seger at the considerably larger United Center. He last released an album in 2006, with the one prior being in 1995, likely hasn't been on the tip of anyone's tongue--nor garnered much press coverage--of late and attracts an audience in which I was one of the youngsters.

Though I don't think the show was officially a sellout, and attendance may have been helped a bit by Joe Walsh being the opening act, Seger and his Silver Bullet Band basically packed the place. 15,000 would be a conservative guess; maybe closer to 18,000.

"Rock and Roll Never Forgets," indeed.
Photo from Bob Seger's Facebook page.

On an evening when the young and hip could be seeing Maroon 5 at the Allstate Arena and the old and hip could choose between Mike Nesmith at the Old Town School of Folk Music and Allen Toussaint at City Winery, the rest of us settled in for a night of old time rock 'n roll with Bob and Joe.

Quite happily.

A few minutes before the ticketed start time of 8:00pm, Joe Walsh walked on stage with a gleeful shout of "How you doin'?"--still resonant for those of us who recall his wonderful visits with Steve & Garry back in the day.

He and his band, including a trio of drummers, kicked into the old James Gang hit, "Walk Away," and things were joyously up and running on a delightful 7-song opening set. (Setlist here)

Even if I couldn't quite understand much of his buoyantly goofy--if now supposedly clean and sober--stage patter from near the back of the UC, the 65-year-old Walsh sounded great on guitar and vocals in belting out classics like "Funk #49," "In the City," and "Rocky Mountain Way," and "Band Played On," off his solid new album, Analog Man.

"Life's Been Good" was a hoot as always, with Joe updating "they write me letters, tell me I'm great" to "they write me emails..." Someone hipper than I should let him know that even email is passé among those too young to know who Joe Walsh is. 

And as "Turn to Stone" is the favorite Walsh song of my friend Dave, who accompanied me along with two others, it was nice that Joe played that one, too.

As someone remarked, in the early '70s Seger would've been opening for Walsh, and given his stint in the oft-reunited Eagles, Joe has likely played for more people than Bob. So his 45-minute set served to remind just how nice it is to get a first-rate opening act and not some new band you've never heard of (with respect to several who have been quite entertaining).

Photo Credit: Nuccio DiNuzzo, Chicago Tribune
Having seen Bob Seger & the Silver Bullet Band three previous times since he started touring again in late 2006 (after a long hiatus from music, before which I had never seen him live), I pretty much knew what to expect.

I knew he would put on an excellent show featuring numerous terrific, crowd-pleasing songs, but wouldn't dig as deep into his vast catalog, nor deviate from past setlists (of prior tours or earlier shows on this one) as I would wish.

I also knew that a month shy of 68, the paunchy Seger wouldn't match the ferocity of his youth, as attested to by a colleague of Dave's who joined us after having last seen Bob & the SBB in 1978.

(Reflecting the above two statements, here's a great YouTube clip from '78 of "Still the Same," one of my favorite songs that Seger never plays anymore.)

But what I did find pleasantly surprising was how good his voice sounded.

While the shows I'd seen in recent years were all satisfying--my review of a 2011 gig in Grand Rapids, MI isn't so different than this one--I worried if perhaps he'd had a minor stroke or other physical impairment, as his vocals just didn't seem as powerfully wrought, though likely this was just the ravages of age and a life on the road.

But Saturday night, everything seemed right again. During "Turn the Page," I closed my eyes for a moment and really couldn't tell the difference from the Live Bullet rendition from the mid-70s. (A clip of "Turn the Page" is at bottom.) Along with the essence of Seger himself being still the same--no frills, no BS from BS, just a show that makes you smile fondly and sing along often--here his singing largely was, too.

Given my desire that he loosen up his setlists a bit--they've largely been similar all 4 times I've now seen him, with the exact same 4 encore songs--you might think I'd be thrilled that he didn't open with "Roll Me Away," like he did the last 3 times. Primarily on this tour, he's been opening with the appropriately-titled John Hiatt-cover, "Detroit Made," but at the UC, he opened with another song I didn't know, "Long Twin Silver Line."

But maybe he knew best all along, as I think "Roll Me Away"--which he did play later on--would've been a better opener. Though I would advocate the neglected "Feel Like a Number" or "Even Now."

Taking a look at Bob Seger's United Center setlist (on, you can see why despite some wishes and trifling gripes, there was a whole lot to like, with "The Fire Down Below," "Mainstreet," "Travelin' Man/Beautiful Loser," "Katmandu," "Hollywood Nights" and "Night Moves" being among many gems not already mentioned.

Seger played one recently-written song, "All the Roads," from a new album promised in August (he was also supposedly going to release one in 2011 but didn't). It fit in well, as did "California Stars," a cover of a song for which Wilco had put music to old Woody Guthrie lyrics. Though Seger mentioned Guthrie, it would have been nice had he credited Wilco in their hometown, or even had Jeff Tweedy join him onstage.

With Seger being such a long and loyal Michigander, it was nice to hear him announce with glee that the U of M had made the NCAA basketball finals, before launching into encore opener "Against the Wind."

And enough time has passed that I didn't cringe and think of pickup trucks--well, not too much--when, earlier in the show, Seger played "Like A Rock," which has not been a staple of the recent tours.

Especially as, though far from his best song, it seems to define him.

Even thinking back to his '70s heyday, though he may have been more popular, I don't believe Bob Seger was quite as hip as contemporaries like Bruce Springsteen, Tom Petty, Billy Joel or Warren Zevon.

Nor did he have the panache of Bowie, the CBGB and British punks, Steely Dan, Led Zeppelin or even the best of disco. He just put out album after album of good, solidly-enjoyable music that people seemed to like.

He was populist in the best sense of the word.

And having been heartened that he can still fill the largest arena in town, it's nice to know that he remains that way. Particularly because even after selling more than 50 million albums (according to Wikipedia, and that seems low to me), Bob Seger still seems like a guy it'd be fun to talk baseball with over a beer.

Down on "Mainstreet."

Here's a video clip of "Turn the Page" from the United Center, posted to YouTube by jwvargas55:

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