One likes to believe in the freedom of music.
Rush - Spirit of Radio.
In 1980 I bought Bob Seger’s second live album, Nine Tonight, and threw it on the turntable. Everything I thought about music changed. Seger was an outsider to the band culture, complete with virtuoso guitarists, that I had believed was the best in music. I had never been a Seger fan, always thought his stuff was overly simple, three chord pop, not worthy of my attention. Nine Tonight changed that.
A week later, enthused by my reaction to Nine Tonight, I picked up his previous live album, Live Bullet. I was sitting on the floor of my bedroom in dim light listening to it when Turn The Page came on. I was dumbstruck: what was this and how had I never heard it before? When it was over I picked up the needle and listened again. And again. And again. I was sold.
To this day I consider that version of that song possibly the greatest moment in rock and roll. It is on any night a great song, but on that night in Detroit’s Cobo Hall, Bob Seger had an epiphanal moment.
For those not familiar with Live Bullet, a little history: In 1975 Seger was working the same mid-west circuit that bands like Ted Nugent, ZZ Top and REO Speedwagon were working (don‘t mock REO until you‘ve heard their live album), club to club, small hall to small hall trying to eke out a living. He had a number of albums out, none of which had been particularly successful. He was one of the top performers on the lower rungs of rock’n’roll’s hierarchy. Wichita, Akron, Fargo, Kalamazoo &tc. playing for a few thousand people a night.
Detroit was different. Detroit was home and they “got” Bob Seger like the rest of the country didn’t. So riding the bus between Tupelo, Mississippi and Gary, Indiana one night became playing three shows to 18,000 people at Cobo Hall the next. From a wanna be star to a defacto star by crossing the border between Ohio and Michigan:
Here I am, on the road again
There I am, up on the stage.
Here I go, playing star again.
There I go, turn the page.
It’s hardly surprising that Seger, and his band, took the above words and made magic out of them on one of those nights at Cobo Hall.
Live Bullet changed Seger’s life, changed the shape of his career. The album was successful enough that he began playing bigger halls everywhere, which led to his best, and most successful album, Night Moves. Everything changed, and then Bob Seger stopped changing.
Last week Bob Seger announced a small spring tour of select cities. Saginaw, Toledo, Grand Rapids and Cleveland have already been announced. Thirty years after Nine Tonight, five studio albums later, the show he will put on will mostly be Nine Tonight, with a few touches from Live Bullet. If you found yourself in a coma in 1981, and your first act after coming out of it in 2011 is go see Bob Seger, you will know most of the songs (including, to your surprise, Chuck Berry’s Cest Le Vie).
I offer the above knowledge of what you will see at a Bob Seger concert not as a warning, concerned you’ll spend hard earned money on some dinosaur who refuses to grow. I offer it as a service, to let you know that there is no surprises at a Bob Seger concert, and that it is a good thing.
“People know when something’s fake, and they know when something’s rehashed and rehearsed. They know when your telling them the same joke between songs that you told in Poughkeepsie last night. They can smell it” Jack White said in the documentary It Might Get Loud.
I have seen Bob Seger six times since 1982 and every time he has said, “I feel a bit funky tonight,” before the second song, Tryin’ To Live My Life Without You, just as he does on Nine Tonight. It doesn’t smell. When you leave a Seger concert you know you saw something tightly scripted, tightly controlled and you had a great time. The scripting, the control, the eleven piece band including three female back-up singers. It doesn’t matter. What counts at a Bob Seger concert is the music, the songs. And you will get your fill of good to great rock and roll, played with exceptional professionalism.
Know what the fifth song will be at any Bob Seger concert? Old Time Rock and Roll. Always. He warms you up a little, starting with something like Roll Me Away, followed by Seger’s pronouncement that he feels funky leading into Tryin’ To Live My Life Without You. There’s be something new, Mainstreet and then… “just take those old records off the shelf…”
That’s what a Bob Seger concert is like: taking the old records off the shelf. After Old Time R&R, he’ll lead you through a solid grounding of his best stuff: Night Moves, Hollywood Nights, Shakedown, Lock and Load, Rock and Roll Never Forgets, Betty Lou, Ramblin’ Gamblin’ Man and, We’ve Got Tonight/Turn the Page.
It is not a serious event, but a revival, a reminder that we once considered rock and roll dance music, and that while sweet sixteen may be 31, 41, 51 even 61, rock and roll really never does forget.
The Freedom of Music