LIVE: Bob Seger & the Silver Bullet Band @ Times Union Center, 12/2/14
Review by Dan Hogan
Photographs by Andrzej Pilarczyk
In age of tribute bands and auto-tune pop stars, it is refreshing to see that Bob Seger is still out on the road. Bob is 69 years old now, and he is touring behind a new album, but I was part of the packed Times Union Center crowd that came to hear his hits from the 1970s. We would not be disappointed.
For over 50 years, Bob Seger has been a staple of American Music. As a kid, I still remember the first time I heard the Bob Seger System’s “Ramblin,’ Gamblin’ Man” on WKBW-AM in Buffalo. What was that, I wanted to know?
On the strength of the albums “Beautiful Loser,” the hugely successful “Live Bullet” and “Stranger in Town,” Seger would go on to be a huge star in the mid to late ’70s. I hadn’t listened to his music in quite a long time, but the double-bill with the J. Geils Band was enough to make me curious. Looking around the arena, I saw a crowd that looked a lot like me that was here to have a good time listening to those hits of the ’70s.
Seger took the stage fronting a huge, 14-piece version of the Silver Bullet Band – two guitars, three back-up singers, five horns, grand piano, organ, drums and bass. From the first notes of “Roll Me Away,” this was a top-notch band. Seger, despite his white hair, is pretty spry for a 69-year-old man. It was clear from the start that he was having a good time, and was going to give it all for the fans who packed the arena.
The band fired up a horn-fueled version of Otis Clay’s “Trying to Live My Life Without You,” followed by the “Fire Down Below,” establishing that Bob is still in fine voice and capable of some great blue-eyed soul. In another great cover, the band pumped out Steve Earle’s “The Devil’s Right Hand,” before moving to his hit “Main Street.” It was a beautiful rendition of the song, and everyone in the crowd was singing along.
Seger really connected with the crowd with the instantly recognizable piano intro to “Old Time Rock and Roll.” Now the entire arena was singing along and dancing.
Seger was starting to lose me with his new song, “The Fireman’s Talking,” which was followed by the old hits “Come to Poppa” and “Her Strut.” I was starting to worry that he was getting tired and going through the motions until he sat down with an acoustic guitar.
I shouldn’t have worried.
“Like a Rock,” always makes me think of the Chevy Truck commercials. I had never paid much attention to the song before, but this night it was far more than a jingle. Bob Seger was not going through the motions, and he was just getting warmed up. Despite having to change guitars in the middle of the song, Seger, the consummate pro, sang the song with such feeling that I got goose bumps. It also featured an amazing slide guitar solo from Rob McNeeley.
From this point on, the show was simply amazing. Seger’s voice was strong, the band was tight and the crowd was fully engaged. The medley of “Travelin’ Man/Beautiful Loser” was spectacular and Bob, was now on fire. Oh, there was a time when it looked like his dentures slipped, but seeing this man, 69 years old, running from side to side of the stage and singing those songs as if his life depended on every note, was worth the whole price of admission.
Shifting gears again, he slowed it down with a cover of the Woody Guthrie/Billy Brag/Wilco song “California Stars,” before heading into a new song, dedicated to Stevie Ray Vaughan called “Hey Gypsy,” allowing his two excellent guitar players (McNeeley and Jim “Moose” Brown) to strut their stuff. It was fresh and fun and the best of the new songs offered that night.
This was followed by a nice version of “We’ve Got Tonight” that had the whole place swaying in time to the music.
Going back to the ’70s again, Seger’s best song of the night was “Turn the Page.” You could feel it taking you back and still hear the pain in Seger’s voice 42 years later. It was beautiful and poignant, and I don’t have words to describe all the feelings that song evoked about being young, with long hair and being looked at by old people, but it seemed incredibly timely on Tuesday night.
He ended the show with a cover ot John Hiatt’s “Detroit Made,” and I, unlike anyone around me, knew all the words. I also knew that we were going to start to leave before the encore, so as not to get trampled, but the band came back on stage and played “Against the Wind,” “Hollywood Nights,” “Night Moves” and “Rock & Roll Never Forgets,” as we walked to the back of the arena.
I left satisfied and went home happy, and now I am going have to give a few of those Bob Seger songs another spin. What a great concert. Sure, the band’s personnel has changed over the years, and I thought it might be disconcerting to seeing old people acting young up on that stage, but Bob Seger is still young at heart, and this was one of the best bands I have ever seen.
Also of note in the Silver Bullet Band: Don Brewer of Grand Funk Railroad was on drums, and Shaun Murphy (longtime Seger singer and former Little Feat frontwoman) led the trio of back-up singers. His sax player, Alto Reed (aka Tom Cartmell) played a huge contrabass saxophone on a few songs (you could hardly hear in the mix) adding to the larger-than-life feeling of the concert.
Overall, the sound was very good, but the arena floor seats are horrible and people who paid the most for their seats were packed in like cows in a stockyard.
The J. Geils Band, fronted by vocalist Peter Wolf and keyboardist Seth Justman (J. Geils is not with the band), opened the show with a rocking and rollicking show that really got the crowd going. Their show was worthy of its own review, but I will leave it by saying you should have been there. I am glad I decided to go. Two great bands, still going strong, showed how it’s done.
Greg Haymes’ review at The Times Union
Pete Mason’s review and Jim Gilbert’s photographs at Upstate Live
Excerpt from David Singer’s review at The Daily Gazette: “Seger’s set was also packed with classic hits, but lacked the raw punch of Geils. Still, the great songs kept coming, the crowd stayed on its feet and the show stayed high. Songs like ‘Main Street,’ ‘Old Time Rock ’n’ Roll,’ ‘The Fire Down Below,’ and ‘Hollywood Nights’ can sustain a crowd on any night. He pushed his new record a little, Ride Out, his first one in eight years, with ‘The Devil’s Right Hand’ and a few others, like ‘Hey Gypsy,’ which he wrote for Stevie Ray Vaughn. The crowd plopped in their seats for these, but that didn’t last long. Seger always came back with big ones, like ‘Beautiful Loser,’ ‘Turn the Page’ and ‘Travelin’ Man,’ which he said was where it ‘all started’ for him… One of the best moments was during ‘Like a Rock.’ We were reminded here that Seger can carry a ballad. For this he sat on a stool with his acoustic guitar, shut his eyes and dug in a bit. If nothing else, he has that knack for capturing the spirit of Lake Wobegon scenes, telling the every-man story of lost time and squandered youth.”
BOB SEGER & THE SILVER BULLET BAND SET LIST
Roll Me Away
Tryin’ to Live My Life Without You (Otis Clay)
The Fire Down Below
The Devil’s Right Hand (Steve Earle)
Old Time Rock & Roll
The Fireman’s Talkin’
Come to Poppa (Willie Mitchell)
Like a Rock
Travelin’ Man > Beautiful Loser
California Stars (Woody Guthrie/Wilco)
We’ve Got Tonight
Turn the Page
Detroit Made (John Hiatt)
Against the Wind
Rock & Roll Never Forgets