My early experiences with Bob Seger’s music are unsurprisingly tied to pop culture; like most people my age, I first became aware of his work thanks to Tom Cruise dancing in his underwear in Risky Business.
That made a big impression on me at the time; those opening notes of “Old Time Rock and Roll” are forever linked to that image of Cruise sliding across the floor and have been so iconic that it has become replicated and parodied in many films and TV shows.
I was reminded of Seger a few years later when “We’ve Got Tonight” was featured on Cheers; Rebecca drunkenly belts that tune out when she realizes that she doesn’t want to get married to Robin and Sam plays the song at her wedding to remind her of her confession the night before and that this isn’t actually what she wants.
While I liked both songs, I don’t even know if I put together that they were by the same person until I went to college; my freshman year I hung out a lot on the men’s floor of our dorm – because I’m no dummy – and one of the guys who I fraternized with used to have Bob Seger’s greatest hits on pretty heavy rotation. I was drawn to the songs, perhaps influenced by the fact that I was also drawn to the person playing them, and became something of a Seger fan in the process. I never expanded my horizons beyond that particular greatest hits compilation, but it quickly became one of my favorite albums, even after my interest in the person who introduced me to it faded. Being a Metallica fan, I was particularly excited when they covered “Turn the Page;” I wound up liking both versions quite a bit. There was something about Seger’s no-nonsense rock and roll that just made me happy. When I heard that he was coming to town, I immediately scooped up a ticket. Bob Seger wasn’t someone that I necessarily would have sought out to see live, but since he was coming to me it seemed like fate had intervened for me to see him perform.
In my quest to be more “fiscally responsible” – the quotes are intentional – I opted for the cheap seats for the show. This is something of a seismic shift for me in my concert going; I am generally a spoiled brat that is willing to pay a little extra for better seats. I knew that I was in the upper deck, but I didn’t realize that I was in row N until I arrived at the Times Union Center. As I climbed the stairs to what had previously been forsaken territory, the steepness of the seats made me a little dizzy.
It wasn’t even that high up, but the angle made it feel more perilous than I was anticipating. As I got acclimated, the sensation that I may fall subsided and the seats wound up not being that terrible. I just don’t think I do all that well with heights. As I looked around the arena, it was pretty apparent that I was one of the youngest people there; at this point, I’m used to being either the oldest or youngest person at a show. People in their 30s just don’t seem to go to a ton of shows, presumably because they are busy with other things like having a family. #suckers
The J. Geils Band kicked things off promptly at 7:30 and I honestly wasn’t too sure what to expect. In a conversation with a co-worker about the show earlier that day, I had two revelations:
I only know three J. Geils Band songs (“Love Stinks,” “Freeze Frame” and “Centerfold”), which are apparently not at all representative of the rest of their catalog.
There isn’t even anyone named J. Geils in the current incarnation of the J. Geils Band.
Both of these nuggets of information were surprising to me; I’d kind of always assumed that if there was an actual J. Geils, he’d be the lead singer and not the guitarist. I guess years of listening to Van Halen have taught me nothing. It seemed a little odd for the titular band member to be absent, but rock and roll is a fickle beast and I guess everyone is replaceable. Of course, Mr. Geils did not go quietly into that good night and filed a lawsuit over the use of his name – not that I blame him – but the end result was that I was watching a J. Geils-less J. Geils Band.
Honestly, J. Geils might want to count his blessings since I was not at all impressed with his former band’s set. The musicians were all pretty solid, but I thought the lead singer Peter Wolf was the epitome of an aging rock star who still thinks he’s a rock star. Clad in a black sequenced jacket, he looked a little like Howard Stern and awkwardly danced around the stage all night. Think Mick Jagger mixed with a toddler learning to walk. It wasn’t good. That could all easily be forgiven if his vocals were on point, but I found him mixed at best. Part of the problem was that because of his frequent strutting around the stage, he kept dropping the microphone from his mouth and so half the lyrics would be lost. While he certainly was powerful, in parts it sounded more like he was sing/yelling rather than singing; it reminded me a little bit of a preacher giving his Sunday sermon. This worked on some songs a lot better than others; I was particularly disappointed by their rendition of “Centerfold,” where his dropping of lyrics resulted in half the song being omitted. I dug the more bluesy sound of their other songs, but I found Wolf way too much of a distraction. I may be in the decided minority here; everyone else in the audience seemed to dig what was happening. Some Baby Boomer in the front row was losing his ever-loving mind over this spectacle. Maybe you had to have fond memories of the band to be into it. As a newbie, it just didn’t do it for me.
Thankfully, I wasn’t really there to see J. Geils so while they weren’t exactly my cup of tea, I found them more amusing than disappointing. After a quick intermission Bob Seger took the stage and he sounded exactly as he did on the cd that I used to listen to so religiously. He may be a lot greyer and not quite as energetic as he used to be, but even with a little off his fastball he put on a very solid and entertaining show. He kicked things off with “Roll Me Away” and had the audience in the palm of his hand for the rest of the evening; even during the songs that he played off his new album, there was very little movement in the crowd. There is usually a mass exodus for concessions and the restrooms when a performer announces that they are playing something “off their new album” but from my vantage point high above the floor, I saw only nominal departures. He wisely sprinkled the new songs in sporadically among his more popular hits, though my limited knowledge of his “deeper cuts” (aka – anything that didn’t make the greatest hits album) meant that a lot more of the songs were new to me than they were for the rest of the crowd.
Bob Seger is a pretty workaday artist and he kept things pretty simple; while Peter Wolf was all flash in this stage persona, Seger was just a guy up there with a guitar. His only rock star accoutrement was a silly black headband that he wore during much of the show; he looked a lot like an average dad who just happens to be a musician. Its silliness was endearing; it looked ridiculous, but it was so authentic that is wasn’t even comical. His banter with the crowd was limited, but he told the occasional joke or story. In way of introduction to “We’ve Got Tonight” he relayed the story of how excited his mother was to hear a music version of the song in an elevator in Hawaii. It was all business with Seger, but he was still clearly passionate about his music; his rendition of “Turn the Page” was pretty spectacular and earned him a standing ovation. It was quiet enough that you could hear the entire venue singing right along with him and it sounded really fantastic. I even liked his new stuff and will consider procuring the new album.
Despite my relative disconnect with the opening act, I am very glad that I made the decision to see Bob Seger. While it was not the most over the top or energetic show that I’ve ever see, I really appreciated Seger and his blue-collar approach to rock and roll. I don’t necessarily think that I’d seek him out again, but I’m pleased to be able that I’ve seen him perform live at least once. Being able to experience “Hollywood Nights,” Night Moves” and “Like a Rock” first hand was pretty cool; my only real disappointment was that he didn’t do my favorite song “You’ll Accomp’ny Me,” which I really love despite the unnecessary abbreviation of the title. Not a show for the ages, but a very relaxing and entertaining evening of classic rock.
Bob Seger and the Silver Bullet Band’s Ride Out tour continues through March of 2015.
*If you are looking for this week’s pop culture roundup, it was posted yesterday.