“This is my last tour,” Bob Seger announced in front of a nearly sold-out Xcel Energy Center last night. “But I’m available for weddings so that’s fine.”
Decked out in a decidedly simple well-worn black T shirt and jeans that he had to hitch up a few times throughout the night, Seger presented two dueling visions. To deny that he looks, and occasionally sounds, old, would be a complete lie; to pretend that he isn’t also perfectly presenting the same scrubby vision of calloused garage rock and roll that he practically invented 50 years ago would be a mistake. Seger knows he’s straddling the line between under-appreciated rock legend and weird grandpa. And he doesn’t care.
Bob occupies a strange spot in rock and roll. There’s a nostalgic schmaltz to his image that prevents him from being seen as an “artist,” from gaining the same high critical reputation of his workingman storyteller peers. He embodies “classic rock” as something that appeals to an entire generation of folks not quite old enough to have lived it the first time around, even though he did himself. If you were old enough to see Seger in his prime, great. If you were slightly younger, you still got plenty of him, because that’s what classic rock did for an entire generation.
Because of Tom Cruise in his underwear or the ubiquity of ’80’s pickup truck ads, Seger’s either unapologetically loved or derided. He’s never gotten that second look from critics that was granted not just deserving recipients like Tom Petty but turgid crap like the Eagles and the Doors.
But he should have one. That’s why there’s no better guest to join a mid-40s music critic for this show than an equally mid-40s local punk-rock guitarist, Billy Morrisette of Dillinger Four and Butcher’s Union, because like Bob, Billy and I just don’t care. He can be corny as hell, but it shouldn’t be forgotten that when you speak of Midwestern bare-bones garage rock, he might have been Tesla to someone else’s Edison, but he still invented this shit.
“Bob gets shit for being Springsteen-light, but I don’t see it, man,” says Billy. “He was very actively part of one of the most crucial times in rock and roll history, out in the middle of nowhere in Michigan with Alice Cooper and MC5 and Stooges. Jesus Christ, after 50 years, if he hasn’t earned the right to parade around on a stage like a goofball at age 73, who has?”
And parade he did: Seger’s Xcel set was an impeccable review of the best and worst-best of his catalogue, backed by a Silver Bullet Band that included a few young bucks trading licks with guys who’ve been with him since almost day one. The set seemed paced to accommodate Bob’s voice, mixing rockers and more mellow jams at a close to 1:1 ratio, with Seger himself, as he’s always done, switching from standing frontman to acoustic guitar to occasional piano work.
His voice fluctuated through the night—he seemed more comfortable vocally while sitting behind the keys or with a guitar in hand—and he occasionally leaned on his backup singers and crowd participation in songs like “Travelin’ Man.” After hits like “The Fire Inside” and “Roll Me Away” he even dropped “Her Strut” at the last minute, clearly worrying about his own comfort. (The scramble of his stage crew to quickly move things around to set up “Like a Rock” was only slightly awkward.)
And yeah, there’s Bob stuff everyone loved that I could have done without. “Old Time Rock And Roll” was thankfully early in the set, although one of two songs that apparently Seger Nation have designated the Smoke Weed songs. And “Come To Poppa” is not something I want to see 73 year old Bob sing anymore. But the inclusion of “Ramblin’ Gamblin’ Man,” Seger’s best known pre-Silver Bullet work, and avoidance of ’80s pop stuff like “Shakedown” made for a lean, mean hitfest, concluding with a double encore that included “Hollywood Nights,” “Night Moves,” and “Rock and Roll Never Forgets.”
“I thought this was a more fun, energetic show than he’s done in the past,” says Billy. “I don’t think anyone who considers themselves a fan of garage-inspired heart-on-your-sleeve rock and roll could have a bad time at this show. He doesn’t owe anyone anything, but it’s clear he still loves playing those songs.”
Face the Promise
Still the Same
The Fire Down Below
Old Time Rock and Roll
The Fire Inside
Shame on the Moon
Roll Me Away
Come to Poppa
Like a Rock
You'll Accomp'ny Me
We've Got Tonight
Turn the Page
Forever Young (Bob Dylan cover, dedicated to Glen Frey)
Ramblin' Gamblin' Man
Against the Wind
Rock and Roll Never Forgets
Critic’s bias: “Hollywood Nights” is the greatest song ever written about a Nice Midwestern Boy who chases a dream to a Coast and gets eaten alive by hipster-bloodsuckers. Don’t @ me.
Notes on the openers: Larkin Poe, whose sister-act/frontwomen Rebecca and Megan Lovell are both undeniably talented in a Heart-meets-Allmans mashup sort of way, make me wonder if there’s an entire community of True Believers who think that ’70s Fever Dog guitar-rock is poised for a comeback beyond opening for their predecessors. Billy: “They sound like the soundtrack to the unmade next season of True Blood.”
Notes on the crowd: “Older and safer,” say Billy, which is definitely true. For me, I think the lady next to me thought I was smoking weed, but it was literally everyone else around us. Or maybe I was having having contact high paranoia? Also, why did this guy keep yelling in my direction “Hey, it’s Pete from Merrill Lynch!”
Random notebook dump: Nostalgia is inherently tragic, not joyful; we should not celebrate that rock and roll never forgets but keep one eye over our shoulder, because it will find us and force us all to ride out weekend warrior Harleys off a cliff. And well it should, if we’re half as pretty as Seger on our way down.