A slimline, tour-ready Bob Seger rolled out a show at DTE Energy Music Theatre on a brisk Saturday night that pulled heavily from his greatest hits, with a few rarities and songs seldom played — enough to keep things interesting.
His entrance was perfect. Seger came striding briskly out with his big band — 14 pieces in all, including the horns and backup singers — looking the epitome of the “cool dad” in his black Triumph motorcycle T-shirt, hip jeans and sneakers — to the tune of John Fogerty’s “The Old Man Down the Road.”
That’s owning it.
Of course, if there was a cheeky intent to that song, Seger’s vocals and energy belied the message. If anything, his speaking voice in between songs wasn’t as gruff as it usually is. He sounds younger, and he was hitting high notes we weren’t accustomed to hearing on some songs. Is it his gym workouts? A hyperbaric chamber? Whatever. Keep it going.
It was a startling when he greeted the Clarkston audience with “Hello south Michigan,” which doesn’t roll off the tongue the way “Hey Dee-troit!” does. A bit later he addressed us as “Hey Oakland County,” but he soon backslid and started referring to the crowd as “Dee-troit.” Then we knew, all was right with the world.
He kicked things off, as he usually does, with “Roll Me Away,” and then went into Otis Clay’s “Tryin’ to Live My Life Without You,” a song on which the Motor City Horns shine, and leaves us wishing he’d toss in another R&B cover or two.
Seger seemed disappointed that he couldn’t do a song from his forthcoming album — he told the audience it had been delayed, until November — but with this deep a catalog, he had a lot of ground to cover already. He said that he would do a new song from the album in two weeks, at his concert closing The Palace of Auburn Hills.
The Silver Bullet Band is big, and it can be stunning when all the gears are moving in synch, as one vast machine with an imperative to rock. On their stage right upper perch, the Motor City Horns sway ominously whenever they aren’t playing. Then they raise their horns, and they are blasting, full-out.
It’s OK, because at stage left, the three backup singers — Barbara Payton, Shaun Murphy and Laura Creamer — are sending gale force vocals into the atmosphere.
The two guitarists, Rob McNelley and Mark Chatfield (three if Jim “Moose” Brown is off keyboards and on guitar) sling a wall of sound at bassist Chris Campbell and drummer Greg Morrrow, who chug along rhythmically while Alto Reed prowls the stage with various saxophones, or percussion instruments.
McNelley is particularly effective playing the guitar solo on “Like a Rock,” and can somehow finesse that difficult transition on guitar, from “Travelin’ Man” into “Beautiful Loser.”
Whether it’s early tour nervousness or just natural politeness, it was funny to hear Seger introduce a song with: “This song is from our greatest hits, It’s called ‘Main Street.’ Hope you like it.”
Hope we like it? People were booming “Main Street” from their sound systems in the parking lot, while tossing back beers in their SUV hatchbacks. I heard it at least twice. They like it! But it’s this sort of genuine humility that is key to why Seger is beloved in Michigan.
He turned serious midway through the set, asking the audience to “say a prayer for the people in Texas, and Louisiana and Florida, and wherever else…” He shook his head, clearly exasperated. That led into the song “It’s Your World,” a rare angry Seger song in which he laments our abused environment, singing about dying coral reefs, air pollution and other assaults on the natural world.
“Ramblin’ Gamblin’ Man” is as always, a very welcome blast from 1968. Like most of his fans, we wish he’d take a few more swipes at his early catalog, and Craig Frost has a lot of fun replicating Seger’s relentless, one-handed, organ part from the recording.
“We’ve Got Tonight” was introduced poignantly as his mother’s famous song, “and so I always do it,” Seger noted.
There was one costume change for the boss — Seger came running back out in a maize and blue “I Still Call it Pine Knob” T-shirt — a reference to DTE Energy Theater’s original name — topped with a Detroit Tigers cap.
As this was the first hometown show in a while, there was an air of Pure Michigan about the proceedings. It was clear that Seger was the vessel through which several generations had their growing up and their “sweet, sweet,” Michigan summertime experiences put into poetic and musical form. That’s huge. Now they own those songs as much as he does.
So when Seger introduced guitarist McNelley as having been born in Columbus, Ohio, it was greeted with an avalanche of boos (Columbus = Ohio State). So of course he refrained from saying the city’s name when introducing Jim “Moose” Brown, instead winking as he said, “Jim was born in uh, some city in Ohio.” This audience wanted a farm-to-table, pure Michigan product.
The Motor City Horns? “ALL born in Michigan,” Seger said emphatically.
Family came into play when, just before the second encore, “Rock and Roll Never Forgets,” Seger invited his children and those of his bandmates to come out onto the stage for the audience to see, he hugged and teased with his auburn-haired two — Samantha and Cole.
Samantha had already been out onstage as part of the backup singers on “Hollywood Nights,” synching every hand motion with the veteran singers.
Opening act Larkin Poe was a corker; sisters Rebecca and Megan Lovell, ages 26 and 28 respectively, crank out a poetic yet heavy guitar sound — Rebecca on lead and Megan on slide guitar — while blending harmonies like a young female Everly Brothers. Their “Black Betty” and “Johnny B. Goode” were outstanding. They are apparently a Seger discovery. While they won’t continue on with his fall Seger tour — Nancy Wilson will open at The Palace, and other dates, which will extend through November, we hope they return soon.
The Silver Bullet Band: Bass: Chris Campbell, Sax: Alto Reed, Keyboards: Craig Frost, Drums: Greg Morrow, Lead Guitar: Rob McNelley, Guitar, Keyboards: Jim “Moose” Brown, Guitar: Mark Chatfield, Backup Singers: Shaun Murphy, Laura Creamer, Barbara Payton, Saxophone: Keith Kaminski, Trumpet: Bob Jensen, Trumpet: Mark Byerly, Trombone: John Rutherford.
Susan Whitall is an author and longtime contributor to the Detroit News. Contact her at susanwhitall.com.
Bob Seger and the Silver Bullet Band’s Sept. 9 concert at DTE Energy Music Theatre, Clarkston:
1. Roll Me Away
2. Tryin’ to Live My Life Without You
3. The Fire Down Below
4. You’ll Accomp’ny Me
5. Old Time
6. Main Street
7. Come to Poppa
8. Her Strut
9. Face the Promise
10. Like a Rock
11. Devil’s Right Hand
12. It’s Your World
13. The Fire Inside
14. We’ve Got Tonight
15. Travelin’ Man
16. Beautiful Loser
17. Turn the Page
18. Ramblin’ Gamblin’ Man
19. Against the Wind
20. Hollywood Nights
21. Night Moves
22. Rock and Roll Never Forgets