Classic Rock Corner

Last Night: Bob Seger & the Silver Bullet Band

Bob Seger fist bumps the audience at a previous stop on his "Roll Me Away Farewell Tour."
Bob Seger fist bumps the audience at a previous stop on his "Roll Me Away Farewell Tour." Photo by Steve Galli/Courtesy of Punch Entertainment
MAY 2, 2019

Felt the lightning/Waited on the thunder/Waited on the thunder.”

Fans who had clamored to the Woodlands for what looked like a nearly sold-out show on Bob Seger’s “Travelin' Man Farewell Tour” didn’t have to wait until near the end of the evening (actually late evening) to have this very appropriate lyric from “Night Moves” pop into their heads.

That’s because both of those weather phenomena (plus, oh, some heavy rain) seemed to put the very possibility of the show happening in question. And in this case, Houston would have lost out twice as a previously-scheduled 2017 stop was canceled along with nine other dates when Seger required back surgery.

It was not a good sign when opening act Sunny Sweeney never took the stage, and crew members seemed to take away or cover equipment as those on the uncovered lawn had to evacuate to whatever shelter they could find as the skies lit up. But the person tasked with the unenviable duty of updating the audience said to be patient, put out “positive vibes,” and that Bob and the band really, really wanted to play.

click to enlarge Bob Seger on a previous Farewell Tour stop. - PHOTO BY KEN SETTLE/COURTESY OF PUNCH ENTERTAINMENT
Bob Seger on a previous Farewell Tour stop.
Photo by Ken Settle/Courtesy of Punch Entertainment
So when the rain stopped and the lightning calmed down (but didn’t quit) and the drum tech got a huge response just for testing the skins, I don’t think I’ve ever seen a crowed so primed for Bob Seger, or any act.

The Rock and Roll Hall of Famer and icon – clad in a comfy looking black T-shirt and jeans that set off his pure white hair and beard - emerged at 9:45 pm, some 75 minutes past his scheduled start. I couldn’t help but think would this mean that his set time would be cut short to meet the Pavilion’s 11 pm noise curfew?

Over the years, I’ve seen bands rush through encores to shout out a final “Goodnight, Houston!” and jog offstage before the dreaded hour struck. I also saw Bob Dylan – going on after Paul Simon – casually play until 11:30 pm. And someone has to pay the monetary fine.

Well, Bob Seger came to play Houston – and play in full. A two-hour, 21-song all-killer, no-filler set list kept the wet-but-happy audience of mostly Gen Xers and Baby Boomers on their feet most of the night.

Seger more than played the genial host, singing his familiar songs with not only a power and passion, but while exhorting the band, and looking into the audience for connection. He clearly seemed to have an honestly good time, and his constant smiling and fist pumping was infectious and genuine rather than fake or rote. Seger stuck mostly to singing, though would sometimes strap on an acoustic guitar and play seated throughout the evening, mostly on ballads and slower songs. And his heartfelt introduction to "Like a Rock" and how his youth and mindset then inspired it helped reclaim its meaning from all those Chevy truck TV commercials (and featured a great lead guitar solo).

And that Silver Bullet Band. As a liner note nerd, I was happy to see so many players from the prime ‘70s and ‘80s years still there: bassist Chris Campbell (since 1969!), sax player Alto Reed (since 1971!) along with keyboardist Craig Frost, guitarist Mark Chatfield, and backup singers (and it’s easy to forget how much those female vocals add to so many of Seger’s songs) Shaun Murphy and Laura Creamer.

The band was filled out with Rob McNelley (lead guitar), Jim “Moose” Brown (guitar/keyboards), Greg Morrow (drums), Keith Kaminski (sax), Bob Jensen and Mark Byerly (trumpets), John Rutherford (trombone), and backup vocalist Barbara Payton. They are all simply gifted and classy players, with McNelley, Reed (he of the famous intro to “Turn the Page”) as Frost emerging as crowd favorites.

It’s difficult to pick highlights because so many of the songs were highlights. Though the audience often took particular interest in the many (many) tunes that directly either evoke nostalgia or a wistfulness of the past: “Still the Same,” “Mainstreet,” “Old Time Rock & Roll,” “Against the Wind,” and “Night Moves."

On the more rock side, “Come to Poppa,” “Her Strut,” “Ramblin’ Gamblin’ Man,” and “Hollywood Nights” shone. And a cover of Bob Dylan’s “Forever Young” served not only as a eulogy for Seger’s longtime personal friend, the late Glenn Frey of the Eagles, but also other gone musical icons whose images flashed on the screen like Tom Petty, Stevie Ray Vaughan, Aretha Franklin, Prince, Gregg Allman, B.B. King, and others.

By the time the last notes rang out at 11:45 pm, I’m willing to bet very few members of the audience – even the ones in soaked-through Bob Seger T-shirts (and there were more of them per capita than any show I’ve been to – and I’ve seen Iron Maiden!) were sorry they stayed or stayed late. Early morning office meeting be damned.

Bob Seger is only one of a slew of classic rock-era artists who have either announced, are on, or have finished what they say are their last big tours (Paul Simon, Elton John, Lynyrd Skynyrd, Ozzy Osbourne, Eric Clapton). We’ve seen health issues befall artists like Lindsey Buckingham and Tony Iommi. And then there are the sudden demises like Prince and Tom Petty (who I will forever regret not seeing for the 40th anniversary tour at the Woodlands – weeks later, he was dead).

So that made this particular show all the more special, and I’m so glad it wasn’t canceled. See your favorite bands and performers now, before it’s too late. Until fairly recently, the idea of a “rock star” years past Social Security eligibility still out there playing was not only laughable, it was inconceivable. Tonight, Bob Seger proved that you can be a rock star at any age. And – as he put it – rock and roll never forgets. Even if (as he tweaked the lyric for the rambunctious slow closer), sweet sixteen had now turned seventy-three.   

click to enlarge Vincent Ruggiero - aka "The Classic Rock Kid" - arrived home at 1 a.m.! He called last night's Bob Seger show "the best concert I've ever seen." - PHOTO BY BOB RUGGIERO
Vincent Ruggiero - aka "The Classic Rock Kid" - arrived home at 1 a.m.! He called last night's Bob Seger show "the best concert I've ever seen."
Photo by Bob Ruggiero
Random Notebook Dumps
There were four different grey haired and bearded men doing roadie work on stage during the weather delays who could have been actual ringers for Bob Seger himself. So much that my son kept asking me "Is THAT him? Is THAT him?"

* Five people commented positively on my Zombies T-shirt, which one photographer rushing up to me to show professional pics he took during the ceremony of their recent induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.

Special Bonus Random Classic Rock Bob Rant!
People, stop taking so much useless, shitty, unfocused video on your smart phones during large chunks of the show. You will never watch those videos. Your friends will never watch those videos. You annoy those who are there to actually watch and experience the performance in real life.

Sorry, drunk dude behind me, that Bob didn't play "Katmandu," despite your bellowed requests for it all evening. It's not a good song anyway!

Set List
Still the Same
The Fire Down Below
Old Time Rock & Roll
The Fire Inside
Shame on the Moon (Rodney Crowell cover)
Roll Me Away
Come to Poppa (Ann Peebles cover)
Her Strut
Like a Rock
You’ll Accomp’ny Me
We’ve Got Tonight
Travelin’ Man/Beautiful Loser
Turn the Page
Forever Young (Bob Dylan cover)
Ramblin’ Gamblin’ Man

Encore 1
Against the Wind
Hollywood Nights

Encore 2
Night Moves
Rock and Roll Never Forgets
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Bob Ruggiero has been writing about music, books, visual arts and entertainment for the Houston Press since 1997, with an emphasis on classic rock. He used to have an incredible and luxurious mullet in college as well. He is the author of the band biography Slippin’ Out of Darkness: The Story of WAR.
Contact: Bob Ruggiero