Bob Seger is a true American Icon. At 69 years of age he is showing no signs of fading into the goodnight of his career. It’s been a long road since those halcyon days in the mid to late sixties when Seger was punching out those funky rock & roll anthems like East Side Story, Heavy Music, 2+2=?, Ramblin’ Gamblin’ Man and Lucifer – songs that were axiomatic for building the foundation that defined the ‘Michigan Sound’ as much as the work of such contemporaries as The MC5, The Stooges, and The Amboy Dukes. Ironically, while those other bands are now defunct and best known and revered for their early work; Seger is best known for his later material and still going strong.
For those able to hear Seger in his youthful fury at Daniels Den, laying out all his early hits with a few covers like Hey Jude (Beatles) and Holiday (Bee Gees) or were present when Seger opened for the Kinks @ the Eastown Theatre, or in the thick of it a few years later when he was rockin’ the dance floor at the Brewery in East Lansing, the experience is indelibly etched into one’s consciousness.
And in the mind’s eye it was those early hits that cooked-up that witches brew that later percolated into the more laid-back and introspective side of Seger’s catalog. On this night of Seger’s return to Saginaw for his latest tour opening at the Dow Event Center, Seger eschewed any mention of his younger self as he performed the nucleus of his hit-making era with Capitol Records. And while one might have yearned for the power & momentum of those earlier hits, one couldn’t argue with Silver Bullet Seger’s song selection.
Why? Because the stuff he performed at this concert all turned to gold.
The opening act was a Nashville based group who covered Tom Petty (Don’t Back Down) and Led Zeppelin (Rock & Roll). The lead singer was Clare Dunn - a beautiful woman who could jump and shout and work it on out, sexified and sincere, the Nashville way.
Seger opened with Roll Me Away followed in quick succession with the soulful Tryin’ to Live My Life Without You Babe and the rockin’ Fire Down Below, the country influenced Devil’s Right Hand and the spectacular Mainstreet, an ode to the street life of Ann Arbor.
Whereas in the old days Seger would play guitar and jump around on keyboards, he did not play an instrument on this show, allowing a focus on his singing and the task of pumping up the crowd. His enthusiasm was contagious. It was clear that the sellout crowd of 7,000 – many of who traveled from all parts of the state for this tour opener - adored Seger, with the folks on the main floor standing throughout the show as they did their best version of sing-a-long with Mitch, remembering every lyric in every song.
In this day and age people are more and more a part of the show. It is both annoying and heartfelt. These nattering nabobs are at one with the rock & roll godhead, in essence they become Seger’s image, never stepping on his shadow.
Seger was relentless, dusting off one hit after another. Old Time Rock & Roll (a reconfigured Heavy Music which was the bastard sister of Ramblin’ Gamblin’ Man) segued to the funked up Come to Poppa and the sensuous Her Strut.
The Band was incredible, Donny Brewer of Grand Funk was on drums, a 5-piece horn section provided the funk and the pianist was economical yet could rip off triplets as well as powerful Max Middleton syncopation. Three lovely women did the mighty percussion effects and sang harmonies. The band was Smoking O.P.’S!
Travelin Man and Beautiful Loser were followed by incredible renditions of Detroit Made (a great new song!), Turn the Page and my favorite Katmandu. This show was not an oldies act, as five new songs from the new Ride Out LP were introduced and they fit seamlessly into the set list.
Seger was on fire and his voice was sturdy. He may not have the power that he once possessed, but he can sing in the pocket with that instantly recognizable Seger grit. There were two encores - the first included Against the Wind and Hollywood Nights. The second encore brought it all home with the incredibly nuanced Night Moves and Seger’s anthem to our fading youth Rock & Roll Never Forgets. The show was a triumph from start to finish, well conceived and executed.
I often wondered why Seger picked Saginaw to open several of his tours. I recall seeing Seger at Daniel’s Den in 1968 talking to Frank Patrick, one of the owners, and they seemed to have a good rapport Years later I talked with Bob Parsons, another owner of Daniels Den (along with Alan Schmid) who had a nodding friendship with Seger as they both lived in the same town in northern Michigan and would sometimes see each other at a local restaurant or watering hole.
Perhaps it’s true, rock and roll never forgets.