BOB SEGER & THE SILVER BULLET BAND
The Spectrum, Philadelphia
January 18, 2007
By GEOFF GINSBERG
Well they definitely had the worst hair of any band I’ve ever seen. Collectively there were about five different really bad hair-don’ts on stage. But seriously, despite several glaring weaknesses, this show was a triumph.
Bob Seger, for those of you who don’t know, is more than a middle of the road balladeer from the late '70s and early '80s. I mean, he is that, but he is also one of the pillars of Detroit Rock. In fact, if you actually go to Detroit he is to some extent considered The Pillar. He made it out after all, unlike so many of our heroes. Bob’s first national (and for that matter, international) hit album was 1975's "Night Moves" - a classic, and his tenth album. His ninth, the live set "Live Bullet" went gold but 80 percent of the albums sales were in the state of Michigan, so he was still a regional phenomenon. Can you imagine an artists getting that many chances nowadays? In any case he was someone who worked really hard for all of the success he had. No-one handed him anything. On the tour "Live Bullet" was recorded on I saw Seger second on the bill at a 3000-seat theater (my first concert!). Around the same time he sold out a multi-night stand at Detroit’s Cobo Hall, a basketball arena. Our boy was HUGE locally, but couldn’t get arrested nationally.
In any case, he stopped making interesting records soon after the '70s became the '80s. I had watched the unlikely rise to selling out multi-night stands in Philly at basketball arenas. It was a beautiful thing. But after he went all MOR I lost interest and I hadn’t seen the man live since maybe 1981 before last week. How appropriate that the show was at the Spectrum, which is rarely used anymore due to the bigger, newer place next door. The Spectrum is where he opened for Kiss on the "Night Moves Tour" and eventually headlined many times.
So he gets inducted into the R&R Hall of Fame, puts out a new album that gets (well deserved) good reviews and hits the road for the first time in 10 years. All I know is this: it felt good. Bob’s voice definitely ain’t what it used to be, but it did sound right, just not as strong - he had to stretch a bit at times. But he absolutely gave it 110 percent. He always did and that hasn’t changed. They did the show in two parts - a 70-minute set and second set and encores that clocked in at about one hour.
The first song, "Roll Me Away" was one of those 80's tunes I missed the first time around - not half bad I had to admit. The Silver Bullet Band - now made up of original Silver Bullet Chris Campbell on bass (perfectly put together with his fancy jeans, silver tipped boots and his hair was perfect too, just like my grandmother’s used to be. She would go to the hairdresser once a week and have her hair done. Every hair would be perfectly in place. Impressive); almost original Silver Bullet Tom Cartmell (I can’t bare to call him by his ridiculous stage name - bad pony tail and really bad facial hair) on sax; longtime Silver Bullet Craig Frost on keys (hasn’t aged a day since 1980 - seriously); sometime Silver Bullet (and Grand Funkateer) Don Brewer on drums (uber-mullet); Mark Chatfield (of The Godz - one of the dumbest boogie bands ever. Presumably the dude from Head East was unavailable...long lead guitar-guy hair, but thinning. Not quite bald - not quite wall to wall) on lead guitar; Jim Moose Brown on guitar and keys (shag); and a cast of thousands - sounded great, both in terms of playing and the actual sound mix which was warm and clear.
As far as the new songs go, he did seven, which seems like a lot except they were in fact really good. Five out of seven were “rock,” one was a catchy Seger ballad, and one a nice country song. You have to admit, that’s a surprising ratio of rockers/ballads for a new Bob Seger record. And the rockers ROCK. Not just for new Bob Seger songs, but, like, crunchy rock and roll. The album kicks ass.
The first song that really blew me away was “Main Street” off of Night Moves. The song’s lyrics about a down and out loser are superb:
The pool hall, the hustlers, and the losers - we used to watch em through the glass
I’d stand outside at closing time, just to watch her walk on past
Cartmell has a signature sax lick that he plays repeatedly in “Main Street” that is absolutely amazing. The few notes had the crowd out of their seats every time he played em. This is just the type of song that Bob based the later part of his career on, but I’m sorry, this is a great song and it knocked me out. Cartmell played a number of other instruments besides the various saxes, but the band wouldn’t hurt themselves by featuring him more often. He is a mainstay of Silver Bullet so the crowd loves him - and he can really play. He was definitely the best musician on stage.
These days if you are headlining big arenas there are certain things that are expected of you. Like before the tour starts you’ll do some sit-ups, buy some contact lenses, get a haircut etc. Not this dude. Bob looked like he just rolled out of the barco-lounger and into the arena. He had his paunch, hair was a mess (but it was his hair), glasses - and not fancy rectangular hipster glasses like you, me and everyone we know has, but like, your dad’s reading glasses. And you know why it was a beautiful thing? Because it was 100% genuine. It was totally unpretentious - like the audience. He was just like his audience; he just happened to be the lead singer of a band playing in front of 15,000 people. As a friend said, he looked like you wanted to say to him, “Hey Bob, could you come in from the garage and give us a hand in here?” A regular guy.
The next highpoint was “Betty Lou’s Gettin’ Out Tonight,” a simple straight-up rocker. It was followed by the dreaded “We’ve Got Tonight.”
“We’ve got tonight, who needs tomorrow, we’ve got tonight baby, why don’t you stay”
Air Supply couldn’t have done it any better. OK, here’s where my (highly questionably to begin with) cred goes right out the window: it’s a great song. Did I always hate it? Of course! But damned if it isn’t obscenely infectious (like a disease), and unconsciously hilarious. A note to men - if you lip-synch the words emotively to your girl she will love you even more (if that’s possible - you are pretty wonderful). OK, we won’t go there...
I noticed that Chris Campbell was changing basses after every song. He had about five different instruments, a couple with more than four strings. He has played on every gig Seger has done since 1974 and he seems really comfortable up there. He is the heart and soul of the Silver Bullet Band. He definitely worked his ass off to make Bob a star, but a bass change after every song? Someone needed to tell him:
1. It’s the bass.
2. It’s a rock band.
3. You are the bass player in a rock band.
The first set closed out with three classics from the early 70's, “Turn The Page” featuring another chilling sax lick from Alto Reed (I mean Tom Cartmell!!) and “Travellin’ Man” right into “Beautiful Loser,” just like on "Live Bullet". On “Travellin’ Man” Chatfield played the guitar part perfectly. He is a hack, but an adequate musician. He would be perfect for Nine Tonight (a tribute to Bob Seger). They don’t actually exist - I just made them up, but it’s a good name for a Seger tribute. He made all the lead guitar-guy faces and moves. At one point my friend taps me and says “The guitarist looks like he works at Guitar Center.” I laughed because before the show I looked at an unofficial Seger site and it had links to the various band-members’ web-sites and I clicked on the guitarist to see who the hell he was and it linked me to...the Guitar Center homepage. Swear to God. The original guitarist Drew Abbot was fantastic, a real master of the understated Chuck Berry style, and in 2000 when the band was going to tour and then didn’t Robert Gillespie was rehearsing with them. Compared to those guys Chatfield seemed like someone who had been in The Godz. Oh yeah - he was in The Godz - I just can’t get over that. Anyway a nice way to close out set one.
Second set started with “Simplicity,” a nice locked-in rocker from the new record and then it was time for “Ramblin' Gamblin' Man,” the first and only true Detroit Rock nugget of the evening. It was thrilling. I knew going in there would be very few nuggets and I was ready to savor the one he gave me. And great guy that he is he sang the entire song from the far side of the stage - about ten feet away from us.
“I ain’t good looking, but you know I ain’t shy, ain’t afraid to look a girl right in the eye”
Now that’s song-writing.
I couldn’t help thinking of all the water under the bridge since the first time I had seen him. Then I had never heard of him. Now it was pure nostalgia. But not just nostalgia, that implies that it was lacking in some way - it wasn’t. Bob was having a blast and it was filtering down to us, the regular people. Real regular.
The newbie “Real Mean Bottle” was a real foot-stomper. Kid Rock duets surprisingly well on the album while Don Brewer sang live. To be blunt, if my choice is the guy who sang lead vocal on “We’re An American Band,” or Kid Rock - that’s an easy choice. We got the better of the deal. Really good tune. Brewer’s drumming was competent and steady throughout, just like Homer Simpson says.
By this point Bob’s voice was noticeably weakened, but hell, it was over a two hour show. That’s a lot of singing. The churning rocker “Sunspot Baby” fit in nicely and the homestretch led up to “Katmandu,” the song that had made such an impression on me a youngster all those many years, hell, decades, ago. For the encores the obligatory “Night Moves,” which, frankly, I wanted to hear as much as the other old people there. It perfectly captures young love/lust, summer etc.
“We weren’t in love, oh no far from it,
We weren’t searching for some pie in the sky summit,
We were just young and restless and bored,
Living by the sword”
Don’t you remember? That was you once...
After a nice version of “Hollywood Nights” the band left, came back and seemed to be doing “Night Moves” again, but it was actually “Against The Wind” one of the songs that had kind of turned me off back in the day. It sounded harmless enough though. “Rock and Roll Never Forgets” appropriately closed out the evening. Bob received many standing ovations and really gave it his all. His all isn’t quite what it was 30 years ago, but it’s all you can ask - that somebody give it everything they have. The fact that it had been ten years since he played out gave it that much more of a feeling that it was an “event.” There was something very endearing about a band so hopelessly unfashionable. It was real. That’s what I’m into. What can I say.
Roll me Away
Tryin to Live My Life Without You
Wreck This Heart
Old Time Rock'n'Roll
Wait for Me
Face the Promise
No Matter Who You Are
Betty Lou's Gettin' Out Tonight
We've Got Tonight
Turn the Page
Ramblin' Gamblin' Man
C'est La Vie
Real Mean Bottle (Don Brewer on Kid Rock’s Vocal Part)
The Answers in the Question
Against the WindRock and Roll Never Forgets
BACK TO THE BAR