Bob Seger arguably ranks alongside Bruce Springsteen and Tom Petty in the pantheon of all-American rock legends. He shares with them the craft of forging a melting pot of influences from the last 60 years of popular music and combining them with his own passion and storytelling skills, and a crack live band of ensemble players, to create a distinctively American sound, heartland rock, if you like, which has delighted fans for nearly half a century.
The way modern day all-American boys such as Kid Rock and 3 Doors Down queue up to collaborate with him speaks volumes for the enduring affection and esteem the native of Ann Arbor, Michigan, is held in. However compared to the other two, his profile is somewhat lower in the UK, where the Silver Bullet Band last performed in 1980, and they are no longer the most prolific of touring bands.
So when the opportunity came up to see him in Phoenix, I had to cross off an act extremely high on my now diminishing bucket list. OK, it may have been even more special in his Midwest heartland, but have you seen the weather they have had all winter?
To the ironic strains of John Fogerty’s ‘The Old Man Down the Road’, Bob came on stage, reassuringly making no effort to feign youthfulness, silver mane held in check by a black headband that made him look as if he was at a seniors fitness workout, greeted by huge cheers from the 20,000 or so packing this indoor sports arena.
However on the opener ‘Roll Me Away’ I was a bit concerned that he was playing the David Coverdale trick of allowing the crowd to take over the choruses. Fortunately this was a one-off and his gruff, husky yet warm voice was relatively unchanged by time.
‘Trying to Live My Life Without You’ was the first showcase for the skilled playing of the Silver Bullet Band, in this case the four strong horn section playing a riff straight out of classic Stax soul before the rockier ‘Fire Down Below’ with the crowd needing no invitation to join in on the chorus.
The set was a very satisfyingly put together mix of around 75% his best-loved hits with a smattering of offerings from Ride Out, his first new album in eight years, beginning with a lively cover of Steve Earle’s ‘Devil’s Right Hand’ with keyboards to the fore, before ‘Mainstreet’ featured some haunting sax from the long-serving, ponytailed Alto (sic) Reed. who at various points was playing the largest sax I have ever seen . Dedicating the song to all of us, I was a little disappointed ‘Old Time Rock n Roll’ did not get more of the, er, ‘mature’ crowd around us in the upper tier up and dancing.
Newie ‘Its Your World’ was unimpressive, and while Seger diehards may have been disappointed that he did not wheel out some obscurities, Springsteen style, the nearest to a ‘deep cut’ was probably being ‘Come to Poppa’ which was satisfying funky, with some great guitar work from Rob McNelley , with ‘Her Strut’ in a similar mould with the bass of Chris Campbell, incredibly his cohort since 1969, to the fore.
One highlight was ‘ Like a Rock’, which apparently he rarely plays. Seated with an acoustic guitar Bob delivered a gorgeous version which picked up pace with some marvellously mournful slide guitar work from Rob, followed by ‘Ramblin Gamblin Man’ which as he said went all the way back to 1968, and a medley of ‘Travelling Man’ and ‘Beautiful Loser’ was a chance for the Silver Bullet Band to extend their paces and jam out. Nevertheless one of the best factors about the show was that the pace was unrelenting with few extended breaks or solos even in a near 2 hour set.
After introducing the band- a remarkable 15 strong, including Grand Funk Railroad drummer Don Brewer (the man who put the silver mullet in the Silver Bullet Band), he played two fun new songs in ‘The Fireman’s Talking’, given an Americana feel with some lively fiddle playing and dedicated to his brother in law who lived locally, and a Stevie Ray Vaughan pastiche in ‘Hey Gypsy’.
Bob took to piano for a couple of his best loved ballads, introducing ‘We’ve Got Tonight’ with a humorous story that his mother and great aunt once called him from a cruise ship where an instrumental version was playing in the elevator, before the haunting sax breaks from Alto brought the biggest cheers heard all night on ‘Turn the Page’ (apparently written in Eau Claire, Wisconsin, a place I knew well from my mid-West gigging trips).
There was a great closer in another new song- ‘Detroit Made’ is not even one of his songs, being written by John Hiatt, but felt perfect both lyrically and for the Silver Bullet Band’s ensemble playing.
There was still plenty of time for encores with many of his best loved songs saved to last (though Still the Same was a surprise omission)- Bob again seated with guitar for an epic ‘Against the Wind’ before shouting ‘lets go on a trip’ as ‘Hollywood Nights’ saw the band rocking out and Bob moving from one side of the stage to the other throwing up his arms to whip up the crowd. The trick was repeated for the second batch of encores, the introspective ‘Night Moves’, one of the few numbers where he didn’t seem on top form, giving way to ‘Rock n Roll Never Forgets’.
This show lived up to expectations. One of American rock’s icons is still in fine form and the Silver Bullet Band’s instinctive, well-drilled playing did his classic catalogue justice. But nudging 70, you never know how many last chances there will be to see him.
Review and Photos by Andy Nathan
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