Bob Seger with the Silver Bullet Band & Steve Azar |
at the DCU Center,
(30 January 2007)
Someone at the DCU Center in Worcester had a quirky sense of humor. Before the concert started, recordings of traditional classic rock standards echoed through the arena as pre-show background music: tunes like "Walk This Way" and "Take It Easy." But stuck in the middle were two of the quirkiest songs of our generation and ones we rarely, if ever, hear: "Spiders & Snakes" and "Wildwood Weed" by Jim Stafford. Maybe we were being tested. If we recognized those two songs, we were in the right place. Looking around the hall, I could see most of the adults had indeed experienced the 1970s, for good or bad. Some had received the show tickets as Christmas presents from their kids. Others had brought their teenagers with them to witness the evening's entertainment.
Singer/songwriter Steve Azar and his five-piece band aptly filled the first 40 minutes of the show. Most of the audience probably didn't know this dark-haired country rocker from the Mississippi delta, but he kept up a good pace and no doubt won some new fans along the way. To introduce himself to the crowd, he opened the show with "The Underdog," then he treated us to some of the best story-songs of his past albums, including "Goin' to Beat the Devil (To See My Angel Tonight)," "Crowded," "Waitin' on Joe" and the acoustic sound of "Highway 61." Azar took on a serious demeanor as he dedicated "Bluestune" to those family members who suffered losses during Hurricane Katrina: "Every second, every minute ... I'm away from you, is a waste of my time." Our northern ears heard scenes of the Gulf shore and the bayous in the melody. He also included several selections from his new album, Indianola, including the title cut and "You Don't Know a Thing," a catchy number that's slated to be his newest single. The set closed with "Don't Have to Be Me 'Til Monday," a sentiment that definitely connected with the audience ... in spite of the fact we were four days away from the weekend.
The opening act assignment can be a daunting one, knowing the assembly of thousands did not come to see you. Azar handled it with ease and provided a great musical introduction that complemented the rest of the evening.
But of course, the crowd had come to see Bob Seger, who last performed in Worcester in February 1996. Though this tour promoted Face the Promise, Seger's first studio album in 11 years, you can't help but think his schedule was more about personally reconnecting with the audience and his fan base, with something more substantial than mere Chevy truck commercials. And to that end, it was a perfect concert.
Rock 'n' Roll Hall of Famer Seger, now sporting silver hair and wire-rims, led the 16-piece Silver Bullet Band with a quick pace right away with "Roll Me Away" and "Tryin' to Live My Life Without You," showing us that the night would feature familiar lyrics about love (found and lost), road trips and the pleasures of being young. "Wreck This Heart" was the first selection from the new album, and it put a more mature, working man's spin on life. With recent airplay on classic rock stations, the song wasn't entirely new to the crowd.
We all slowed down to go back in time with the soulful lead guitar lick of "Mainstreet." But then we had to boogie to the steady beat of "Old Time Rock 'n' Roll." Those lyrics were never truer for the Baby Boomers, who nodded and shouted in agreement that "today's music ain't got the same soul." Like other rockers of our generation, Bob can't hit growling notes in the high register anymore; and as a result, this version of the song was a bit more sedate than the original, but no one cared. (Throughout the evening, whenever some of the higher vocals were fainter or shorter than usual, the audience successfully filled them in.) It's still difficult to believe the editors of Rolling Stone ignored this American rock anthem when compiling their list of important and enduring rock songs. Guess they haven't been to any wedding receptions or class reunions lately.
After such a workout, it was time for new music again. "Wait for Me" and "Face the Promise" were both riding/road songs, the latter making a near-Springsteen reference to "the promised land." "No Matter Who You Are" was another introspective tune, advising us that "no matter who you are, no matter who you've been, you'll have to sort it out and start again." It was followed by the dance-infectious "Betty Lou's Gettin' Out Tonight." Sometimes the simplest songs are the best.
Some of the band members took a rest as Bob sat down at the piano for "We've Got Tonight." I'm sure I'm not the only person who immediately flew back to 1978, remembering someone I haven't seen in decades. Lighters and cell phones dotted the arena. Seger stayed seated at the keyboard to play a song he said he wrote in a Midwestern hotel room in 1971. The intro by sax player Alto Reed gave it away. "Turn the Page" is the ultimate rock star sing-along tale of life on the road. The only difference now is that Seger's current collar-length hair would never prompt anyone to ask, "Is that a woman or a man?" ... though Reed's long brown ponytail still might. The first set closed with the tandem tunes "Travelin' Man" and "Beautiful Loser."
After the intermission, we were introduced to "Simplicity," another song from Face the Promise. Seger donned a headband before taking on "Ramblin' Gamblin' Man," one of the oldest tunes in his catalogue. As his fist punctuated the air in time to the steady beat, thousands of others did the same: celebrating not only rock music but also just being alive. A cover of Chuck Berry's "C'est La Vie" was a toe-tapper as well. The last new song of the evening was "Real Mean Bottle," which Seger originally recorded with Kid Rock, who appeared at other tour venues but was not in attendance this night. Only time will tell if any of these new songs will be as longlasting as the old ones.
"Satisfied" featured Craig Frost on honky-tonk piano. After we swayed back and forth to "Fire Down Below," the house lights came up as Seger led us to the height of the night's amusement for audience participation. Reed's raucous saxophone wailed, Seger belted out the verses, and every single one of us shouted the refrain, "Everybody wants to do the horizontal bop!" adding three pronounced crocodile claps at the end. Who would have thought that grown up and seemingly mature men and women would still do that kind of thing? But we did. It was one of the funniest sights I'd seen at a recent concert. Someone posted the performance on YouTube, where you can catch a fleeting glimpse of the crowd just past Reed's Chuck Berry duck walk and Bob's guitar line dance.
In addition to Reed and Frost, the Silver Bullet Band this evening included Chris Campbell on bass guitar, Mark Chatfield on lead and rhythm guitar, Shaun Murphy, Laura Creamer and Barbara Payton on vocals, Don Brewer on drums, Jim "Moose" Brown on guitar and keyboard, and the four-piece brass section supplied by Motor City Horns (John Rutherford, Bob Jensen, Keith Kaminski, Mark Byerly). All returned for a first encore of "Night Moves" (which featured Seger on acoustic guitar) and "Hollywood Nights." The last song whipped the crowd into such a frenzy that the musicians came out for a second encore. If any song epitomizes the Baby Boomer generation, it must be "Against the Wind." Musically simple, with Seger strumming a G-chord progression on his acoustic guitar, the lyrics are even more relevant to us now than they were back in 1980. It seems all these years, we have indeed been runnin' against the wind. Bob launched us off with the final blessing of "Rock 'n' Roll Never Forgets." He updated the lyrics, bouncing across the stage as he sang "Now Sweet 16's turned 61!" and he laughed and pointed to the crowd in amazement -- admitting both his own age and many of those in attendance as well. It was a fitting thought to leave us with.
As happened often throughout the evening, whenever Seger thanked the audience, many of them responded, "Thank you, Bob!" It had been far too long, and they were indeed grateful.
Snowflakes were swirling above us as we made our own moves into the New England night. The echoes from the amplifiers were ringing in our heads, and we had experienced a great evening of old time rock 'n' roll, remembering a time when we were just young and restless and bored. These days, we have so much more to think about: deadlines and commitments; what to leave in, what to leave out. But we've got tonight. Why don't we stay?
by Corinne H. Smith