Music that comes from Detroit bears a mark of distinction. The working-class, rough-and-tumble world that grew around the automobile industry produced an interesting cultural byproduct. The timeless R&B of Motown met and mingled with urban rhythm and blues, partied with rock ’n’ roll and emerged on the other side as a new fusion of all of these styles.
Bob Seger’s music is the epitome of Detroit-style rock ’n’ roll, and before what appeared to be a mostly full house in First Niagara Center on Thursday, he offered up two-plus hours of the stuff. The man is 68 years old. But he partied like he was still waiting for his 30th birthday to roll around. And the whole thing felt soooo Detroit.
Flanked by a large band – which included Grand Funk Railroad’s Don Brewer on drums and harmony vocals, as well as original Silver Bullet Band members Alto Reed on sax and Chris Campbell on bass – Seger gave everything he had to his meat-and-potatoes rock and soul. The assembled partied like it was 1975. Or 1985. Or 2011, the last time Seger played Buffalo.
Opening with “Long Twin Silver Line,” from 1980’s “Against the Wind” album, Seger appeared energetic, relatively trim and in much stronger voice than he was when he played the then-HSBC Arena. The large band, beautifully mixed by the touring soundman, presented an earthy blend of Motown, soul and primal rock ’n’ roll from the get-go, and if Seger couldn’t hit the highest of his high notes from days of yore, he gave it everything he had, as he stalked the stage like a grizzled rocker who had come to pay a visit to some old friends.
Arena shows can be cold, clinical and lonely affairs, the vastness of the room acting as a buffer between performer and audience, as if we had all gathered to watch a legend perform via satellite from some other locale. Thursday’s show revealed Seger’s greatest strength to be his ability to make a hockey arena feel like a living room – his living room. The vibe was intimate, the sound was well above average for an arena show, and the set list proved to be impeccably paced.
“The Fire Down Below,” “Main Street,” “Old Time Rock ’n’ Roll” – to refer to these tunes as classics is to utter a cliché. But there’s no way around it. These songs are classics, no-frills singer-songwriter fare that was oiled and lubed in the Detroit factory. Which is to suggest that the shadow of Motown music never left the stage Thursday.
Seger played “Like A Rock” for the first time in a quarter century, while seated and strumming an acoustic guitar. He delivered the song with passion and almost made us forget that the paean to personal fortitude had been made into a commercial in service of Chevrolet trucks in the latter ’90s. Almost. In truth, this was a bit of a weak spot. It’s hard for a song to reclaim its integrity once that integrity has been compromised.
But whatever. The Seger fans came to hear their man give it all he had, and he did that, tearing through “Live Bullet” classics like “Beautiful Loser” and “Travelin’ Man” with considerable vigor, and offering a taste of his forthcoming album in the form of a cover of Billy Bragg & Wilco’s “California Stars” (a high point of the show) before taking a seat at the piano and leading the band through the fairly cheesy ballad “We’ve Got Tonight” (a low point, but not so low as to be unforgivable).
What can be said about Bob Seger in 2013? His tours are essentially victory laps, with a few new numbers thrown in to keep things somewhat vital. And guess what? That’s just what the doctor ordered.
The opening set from Joe Walsh and his band threatened to make Seger appear superfluous. Walsh, who is only playing a select few dates opening for Seger, tore the roof off with a smoking set that dipped into every era of his lengthy career.