Bob Seger Brought Some Old Time Rock And Roll To The Q
December 7th, 2018
It’s always cool to take those old Bob Seger records off the shelf and listen to ‘em by yourself.
But it’s even better hearing Bob live in concert with the Silver Bullet Band, your cheers mixing with those of fifteen thousand other enthusiastic fans while massive P.A.s pump out the group’s patented, high-decibel rustbelt rock.
You know these songs. Seger’s beloved for his uncomplicated-but-earnest tunes that distill middle class life into three-minute musical novellas. You don’t need to possess a four-octave voice or virtuosic guitar skills to impart these messages, not when your words ring with Seger’s simple, everyman (and woman) elegance and are sung with an ardor that leaves no doubt as to their authenticity.
Seger’s songs are quintessentially American, which is probably why they’re always purloined for movie soundtracks and T.V. spots for beer and trucks. Springsteen and Mellencamp may croon from the proverbial front porch of our nation’s Midwest, but Seger bloodied his hands building those front steps, too.
The 73-year old “Katmandu” king thrilled a crammed Quicken Loans Arena last night (December 6) with a two-hour medley of heartland hits from his prolific catalog, from 1969’s Ramblin’ Gamblin’ Man debut (as the Bob Seger System) through 2014’s Ride Out.
And his Cleveland fans loved every minute.
The Detroit rocker looked healthier than he did his last go ‘round (exactly four years ago), and his trademark gravel voice was in fine form (if occasionally hoarse) for what he says will be his final tour. His attitude hasn’t mellowed with age, either: The 2004 Rock and Roll Hall of Famer rove the stage with a handheld mic, wriggling his hips and pumping his fists overhead as if every song’s end signified a spiritual victory.
Which, in a way, they did.
From feisty opener “Shakedown” and nostalgic “Still the Same” to melancholy “Main Street” and shimmery piano ballad “We’ve Got Tonight,” Seger and company performed like a hungry, youthful upstart band rather than an aging “legacy” act, injecting hustle and muscle into every number instead of phoning them in. That roadhouse energy was infectious, too; the “Q” arena audience danced and sang along the entire time, raising iPhones to preserve the moments (or draft beers to enhance them).
Seger’s impeccable unit included a core band, three background singers, and a four-member Motor City Horns section whose beehive-busyness never really waned; roadies scampered and scurried between tunes to proffer fresh instruments to Bob and his guitarists and bassist, who put their assorted Telecasters and Les Pauls through their paces on Night Moves (1976) favorites “Fire Down Below” and “Come to Poppa” and The Distance (1982) ditties “Shame on the Moon” and “Roll Me Away.”
“Shame”—a Rodney Crowell cover—came off sweetly as a sit-down acoustic guitar bit, while “Roll” was rendered as the souped-up motorcycle anthem it’s always been.
Dressed in jeans and a black “Freedom” shirt (and later a matching black headband), the silver-headed (and bespectacled) Seger crooned on “You’ll Accompany Me” and “Like a Rock,” strumming a Takamine acoustic on a stool like a campfire sage at summer camp. But Bob prowled and preached into a cordless mic on the up-tempo “Like a Rock,” “Travelin’ Man / Beautiful Loser,” and “Her Strut,” weaving between bandmates to the bleats ‘n’ blasts of the horns and wistful wails of slide guitar.
He sent the bluegrass-tinged “Fireman Talking” out to his hard-hatted brother-in-law in Phoenix, and devoted the pretty “Accompany Me” to his mother. He also dedicated the Bob Dylan-penned “Forever Young” to late Eagles star Glenn Frey—but the slideshow on the big-screen above also paid tribute to Tom Petty, Prince, Chuck Berry, the Allman Brothers, Aretha Franklin, and Leonard Cohen.
Seger favored the left side of the stage early on, visiting with and acknowledging ticket-holders there a bit more than folks seated in elsewhere in the bowl, balcony, or floor.
Guitarist Jim “Moose” Brown (Jimmy Buffett, Darryl Worley), bassist Chris Campbell, drummer Greg Morrow (Amy Grant, Blake Shelton), keyboardist Craig Frost (Grand Funk), and saxophonist Alto Reed (Blues Brothers, Foghat) comprised the core of Bob’s band. But the mainstay Bullets were supported by the brass of John Rutherford (trombone), Keith Kaminski (sax), Bob Jensen (trumpet), and Mark Byerly (trumpet). And their three-piece backup choir (Barbara Payton, Laura Creamer, Shaun Murphy) added Motown soul and Stax sass.
Utility man Reed also played maracas and timpani, but the sun-glassed showman spent most of his time blowing on the biggest sax we’ve ever seen, recreating his signature riffs—like the intro to “Turn the Page” and smoldering solo in “Old Time Rock and Roll.” Meanwhile, guitar hotshots Mark Chatfield (The Godz, Michael Bolton) and Rob McNelley (Carrie Underwood) slathered their strings with distortion, overdrive, and (in touches) wah-wah.
Timeless ballad “Against the Wind” and feverish “Hollywood Nights” made for a rousing encore. And if those weren’t enough, “Night Moves” and “Rock and Roll Never Forgets” frosted the cake.
Fellow legendary Michigan (Flint) men Grand Funk Railroad opened with forty minutes of robust rock originals (“I’m Your Captain,” “Footstompin’ Music”) and covers (John Ellison’s “Some Kind of Wonderful and Goffin / King classic “Loco-Motion) from old-school LPs E Pluribus Funk (1971) and Phoenix (1973).
The group still features founding drummer Don Brewer and original bassist Mel Schacher, while its three “newbies” have actually been aboard since 2001: Former Kiss gunslinger Bruce Kulick handled lead guitar, Tim Cashion cooked on keyboards, and vocalist Max Carl (of 38 Special’s “Second Chance” fame) dazzled down front on “”Rock & Roll Soul” and “We’re An American Band.”
Photos by Brian M. Lumley
Review by Pete Roche