The Michigan icon’s return Tuesday to Van Andel Arena with the Silver Bullet Band boasted the usual greatest hits plus a few new tunes from “Ride Out,” delivered with a feisty sort of energy. (Review, photos)
As Bob Seger led his Silver Bullet Band through the first encore at Van Andel Arena Tuesday night, he turned to the title track from 1980’s “Against the Wind.” Strumming his acoustic guitar from a seated position, he sang of disappearing drifter’s days giving way to thoughts of “deadlines and commitments / what to leave in, what to leave out.”
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Seger’s Grand Rapids stop — the ninth date on his current tour — was a study in those kinds of trade-offs.
On the one hand, Seger served up a big ol’ nostalgic rock ’n’ roll show, filled with fist-pumping sing-along choruses and renditions of songs played exactly like you remember them from the radio. On the other hand, the inclusion of songs from his most recent release “Ride Out,” added a feisty energy to the performance.
Seger is one of America’s great cultural treasures. He’s always been deeper than he’s given credit for, both musically and lyrically. Few artists speak to the quotidian hopes and trials of the working class better, and, for Michiganders, every word takes on the special resonance of familiarity. But there’s no question that over the course of his long career, he has occasionally sacrificed his most daring creative urges at the altar of commercial success.
MIXING NEW TUNES WITH CLASSICS IN FINE VOCAL FORM
These days, though, Seger seems to be in an especially fertile artistic period and not particularly interested in stifling those creative risks. “Ride Out” is plenty commercial — it has given him his highest-ever debut on the Billboard 200 chart — but it’s a textured affair. The album is filled with four-on-the-floor rockers, blues shuffles, quirky open tuning experiments, spooky fiddle and banjo arrangements, and a degree of social conscience that hasn’t been much present in his music since his early days. To borrow the words of Detroit News writer Susan Whitall, it’s rugged, it’s real and, in its way, pure Michigan.
On stage, Seger is in good physical and vocal form. He kicked off the show with his traditional opener, “Roll Me Away,” which ranks next to Springsteen’s “Born to Run” as a perfect use of the motorcycle as metaphor for the promise and danger of the American Dream. In rapid fire, the band blasted through familiar classics “Trying to Live My Life Without You” and “The Fire Down Below” before turning to the first new song of the night — a cover of Steve Earle’s cautionary gun tale, “The Devil’s Right Hand.”
GROWING INTO REFLECTIVE MATERIAL FROM HIS HEYDAY
The current version of the Silver Bullet Band tops out at 15 people (mostly Michiganders), but members rotate in and out from song to song. Longtime members like bassist Chris Campbell, sax player Alto Reed and keyboard player Craig Frost were joined by Grand Funk drummer Don Brewer, guitarists Moose Brown and Rob McNelley, a trio of backup singers and the Motor City Horns (featuring Grand Rapids native Mark Byerly). The band’s newest member is a hotshot fiddle payer named Deanie Richardson. She wasn’t onstage much, but she added a great urgency to the new climate change warning “The Fireman’s Talkin’.”
It feels like Seger is growing into some of his more reflective material from his ’70s and ’80s heyday.
In retrospect, it seems absurd to think of a 31-year-old Seger singing wistfully about autumn closing in on “Night Moves.” But those same lines take on a new emotional heft when delivered nearly 40 years later by a man who realizes, when he gazes at the ghostly white moonlight, that his career is closer to the end than the beginning.
But even as Seger’s songs probe the ephemeral nature of youth and the fickle nature of love, those reflections were accompanied by a real joy in the live presentation.
The back-to-back “Traveling Man” and “Beautiful Loser” sounded much like their “Live Bullet” versions, but they brought out actual visible goosebumps for this writer. The crowd went nutso for the epic FM staple “Turn the Page.” By the time the show-closing “Rock and Roll Never Forgets” came around, the rafters were ringing and the beat was indeed strong.
And, yes, the crowd was swaying and singing along.
The J. Geils Band opened the show with a taut 45-minute set filled with thick, layered grooves and the flamboyant antics of Peter Wolf, unquestionably one of the great rock ’n’ roll frontmen.
THE BOB SEGER PHOTO GALLERY: Photos by Anthony Norkus
Copyright 2014, Spins on Music LLC