Bob Seger & the Silver Bullet Band, Heartless Bastards Toyota Center February 14, 2015
Love was undoubtedly in the air on Valentine's evening at Toyota Center. Throngs of die-hard Bob Seger fans poured into the arena to celebrate their undying devotion to their favorite Detroit son, while he and his expansive crew of top-notch performers poured every ounce of that devotion right back into the audience. Through their 18-song set of classic rock gold and two well-earned encores, Seger and company reaffirmed why fans have been loving his blue-collar rock since the 1960s.
His catalog of hits includes a decent amount of "slow and steady" songs, so one might make an assumption that his stage show might not exactly captivate the audience with excitement. This would be a horribly inaccurate assumption. Seger, who donned a sweatband around his silvery locks and smiled with pure joy throughout the entire show, ran around the stage as if it would be his last, giving the audience a performance from the heart.
Seger may not hit all the top notes of days gone by, but it doesn't matter. In some ways, time has done his voice a favor for his brand of music. Gravelly in all the right spots, his voice has aged like a smoky whisky in a wooden barrel, lending an even more authentic tone to bittersweet nostalgia songs like "Main Street" and "Against the Wind."
And then there is the backing band, which is everything. At most points in the night, at least a dozen musicians ran around the stage playing guitars, giant drums, tambourines, maracas, trumpets and more. The audience could clearly sense that these players sincerely love one another's company and together make a family, a camaraderie that produces a fantastic stage show in both sound and performance.
Longtime sax player Alto Reed's staggering talent was somehow heightened by the fact that he looked like a cartoon villain dripping of Drakkar Noir. The backup singers were perfection: Barb, Shawn, and Laura made the audience want to quit their jobs and roll away on the road with the crew. With Seger and his band, the motto truly is "the more, the merrier."
Fans of classic acts typically fear the "new songs" at concerts because, honestly, they aren't as good as the old ones. But not here. Seger seamlessly slipped new songs from last fall's Ride Out around the classics that everyone hoped to hear, preventing the typical "bathroom break" exodus so often witnessed upon the words "Here's one off the new album." Fans will love Ride Out, as it blends Seger's signature blue-collar tone with his love of soul.
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Watching the concert, fans were reminded just how many hits Seger has had over the years, and he did not deprive his audience of any of them. Even in songs he has undoubtedly sang thousands of times over, nothing seemed like it was forced. There was no sense of annoyance or obligation that "Old Time Rock & Roll" had to be played; nor that the audience might riot if "Ramblin' Gamblin' Man" were omitted. Rather, Seger seemed genuinely happy to serve up hit after hit, relishing in the obvious fact that he's been able to curate an enduring career out of something he truly loves. It's also clear that Seger himself is a huge music fan, as shown by covers of Otis Clay, Steve Earle, Wilco and Billy Bragg, and John Hiatt, as well as a tribute to Stevie Ray Vaughan. He understands that the audience wants to hear their favorites, too.
After an 18-song set that started with "Roll Me Away" and ended with "Detroit Made," Seger came back for two of the best encores Toyota Center might have ever seen. The first included a gorgeous "Against the Wind" into a perfect performance of "Hollywood Nights"; the second sent the audience into a frenzy with "Night Moves" and then ended the evening with the apropos "Rock & Roll Never Forgets." The sentiment couldn't have been more true.
So, How was the Opener? Austin-via-Ohio rockers Heartless Bastards' homegrown garage sound was a great match for Seger's Midwestern flavor. Straightforward rock with just the slightest hint of folk, their music would be a perfect choice for a road trip through the country. Definitely a great act to catch live.
Personal Bias: NIGHT MOVES! NIGHT MOVES! NIGHT MOVES! NIGHT MOVES!
The Crowd: White people.
Overseen In the Crowd: Two people on the floor taking turns holding up their sign: "BOB U R STILL ROCKIN MY WORLD"
Random Notebook Dump: Was it "odd couple" night at Toyota Center? Some of the couples seen were rather, uh, interesting. If anything it's very comforting to know that there truly is someone out there for everyone. Keep the faith, people!
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