Seger simply delivers old-time thrills

December 2, 2006

BY JIM DeROGATIS POP MUSIC CRITIC

  • "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 2-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.

     

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