By Michael Hamad
11:16 AM EST, November 27, 2011
Two hours was all Bob Seger, the silver-haired Harley set’s messiah of Motor City blooz-rock stomp, needed to cram together 17 songs and a duo of two-song encores (let’s get that part over with: “Against the Wind”/“Hollywood Nights” and “Night Moves”/“Rock and Roll Never Forgets”).
Do the math: that’s a little under six minutes per song, factoring in transitions and on- and off-stage walks.
A short show? Yes, and a few people might even have felt slighted, having paid upwards of $75 seats. But the brevity didn’t outwardly matter to most folks, and Seger’s wise enough to know you always leave ‘em wanting more. (The Ramones, oblique heirs to Seger and his late-’60s Detroit rock brethren, the MC5 and Iggy and the Stooges, notoriously kept shows crisp and machine-gun precise.)
He’s also smart enough not to stick anything new or slack in there when time is short. And if you can sell out a 10,000-seat arena (that’s what he did) playing three-decade-old hits, why shouldn’t you?
The set-list radiated outward from the year 1976, Seger’s emotional (and perhaps commercial) sweet-spot, with six songs from that year’s blockbuster Night Moves (“The Fire Down Below,” “Mainstreet,” “Come to Poppa,” “Sunspot Baby,” and the two-song final encore), four songs from 1975’s Beautiful Loser (“Travelin’ Man,” “Beautiful Loser,” “Nutbush City Limits” and “Kathmandu”), three songs from 1978’s Stranger in Town (“Old Time Rock and Roll,” “We’ve Got Tonight” and “Hollywood Nights”), two songs from 1980’s Against the Wind (“Her Strut” and the title track), and one song apiece from albums equidistant from the epicenter: “Ramblin’ Gamblin’ Man” (from 1969) and “Turn the Page” (from 1973) on the early end, and “Roll Me Away” (1982) and “Trying to Live My Life Without You” (a cover of an Otis Clay soul chestnut from 1981’s Nine Tonight) on the late end. He played nothing he's recorded post-1982.
If the song selection was problematic for anyone, it remained a muffled grumble for the car-ride back to Torrington, although Seger’s last album, 2006’s Face the Promise, was exceedingly popular, selling over a million copies and hitting Number 4 on the Billboard 200 (a single, “Wait For Me,” was a minor country hit). It might have been nice, if the show went longer, to hear “Real Mean Bottle,” Seger’s collaboration with Kid Rock from that album (he played it the night before in Baltimore). Though less holiday-timely, perhaps, it would have been preferable to “Little Drummer Boy,” which Seger performed on acoustic guitar, with some slide flourishes from guitarist Kenny Greenberg and sax doodles from longtime Silver Bullet Alto Reed (that's him on the famous opening of “Turn the Page”).
(Another minor short-show gripe: Seger’s drummer these days is Don Brewer, who played drums and sang for Grand Funk Railroad -- he sang lead on “We’re an American Band.” I’d have loved to see him get a little vocal spotlight on that one.)
The Silver Bullet Band (including Seger) is a 14-member ensemble, huge by rock standards, with a four-piece horn section, three backup singers, two guitarists, keys, drums and bass. It was orchestral rock, but never plodding, except slighlty during the breakneck “Hollywood Nights,” which requires Brewer to fly along in that disco-gallop drum pattern. Most of the solos were handled by Greenberg with a few by Reed, who played a variety of saxophones and also tympani (!), acoustic guitar and various shakers. One of the backup singers bashed a huge upright bass drum on one song. Bassist Chris Campbell, who’s been with Seger since 1969, was stoic-cool, bespectacled, silver-maned and adequately leathered. Keys had to be lowered into regions more manageable for Seger’s voice, which still exerts a caged-lion roar (though a little under-amplified), but it was never a distraction. Seger stomped the guts out of the rockers, grinding heels into the opener “Roll Me Away,” the crowd-favorite “Kathmandu,” the wah-drenched funk-romp “Come to Poppa” (a surprising, runaway choice for the evening’s best number) and “Rock and Roll Never Forgets,” closing things off, sending beer-soaked Seger-ites staggering for the exits.
Two hours was just barely (but not quite enough) Seger, though better, perhaps, for the economy to release people back into the slot-rooms, shops and pizza joints to spend some more hard-earned dough.
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