"Rock 'n' roll never forgets."
Taken from the title of one of
Bob Seger's biggest hits, this line has appeared in an astounding
number of reviews of the Michigan rocker's first tour since 1996 and
stories about "Face the Promise," his first album in 11 years.
It's a hoary cliche, but Seger's earnest, crowd-pleasing,
Midwestern meat-and-potatoes arena anthems inspire such fist-pumping
hyperbole. And his performance Thursday night at a sold-out Allstate
Arena proved that he's worthy of it.
The 61-year-old singer may have lost a bit of his already gruff
voice during the long sabbatical, when he traded the spotlight for
the role of what he calls "an ensconced dad," staying home to be
part of his two kids' lives. But otherwise, he didn't miss a step as
he returned to the stage.
Fronting a 10-piece version of his long-standing Silver Bullet
Band, including fellow Michigan legend and Grand Funk Railroad
veteran Don Brewer on drums, and augmented by the four-piece Motor
City Horns, Seger delivered a 2½-hour mix of his '70s and '80s hits
("Betty Lou's Getting Out Tonight," "Horizontal Bop," "Katmandu" and
even 1968's "Ramblin' Gamblin' Man") and much less familiar but
similarly constructed songs from his new album ("Face the Promise,"
"Wreck This Heart," "Answer's in the Question").
There were no theatrics, no surprises -- or none more dramatic
than his cover of Chuck Berry's "C'est La Vie" -- and there was
certainly nothing new. Seger's musical aesthetic remains firmly
rooted in the '50s, with hints of Motown and Stax/Volt, but no
stylistic innovations fresher than 1976's "Live Bullet."
"Call me a relic call me what you will/Call me old-fashioned,
call me over the hill/Today's music ain't got the same soul/Give me
that old time rock 'n' roll," as he sang in another of his more
cheerfully rollicking hits.
Yeah, ol' Bob can be cheesy at times, especially on the big,
sweeping ballads like "We've Got Tonight" and "Turn the Page." He
crossed the line from earnest to Hallmark card-banal while
introducing the new "No Matter Who You Are" and urging us all to
"hold on to what makes you special." And sax man Alto Reed could be
the hammiest boob ever to pick up that oft-abused instrument.
But for my money, I'll take a strong Seger show -- which Thursday
undeniably was -- over a run-of-the-mill Bruce Springsteen set any
day. Unlike the Boss, Bob isn't aspiring to craft Important Art or
make a Grand Statement. He's just playing the sort of music he
loves, and he's arguably as good at it today as he ever was.
That shouldn't come as a surprise; you know what they say about
rock 'n' roll and forgetting.