Still the same Bob Seger

by Ryan Snyder

Traveling man Bob Seger and his Silver Bullet Band turned the page one more time at the Greensboro Coliseum on Saturday for a few night moves, a little of that old-time rock and roll, which, as you might know, never forgets. (photo by Ryan Snyder)

If Bob Seger really is intent on hanging up his Silver Bullet bandolier in the near future, he just might be leaving a few good tours on the table. The 65-year-old blue-collar idol’s performance Saturday night at the Greensboro Coliseum showed that, though aging is inevitable, it’s not always accompanied by irrelevance. Seger’s first tour since 2007 showed him to be anything but over the hill. Was it a greatest hits set? Certainly, but those expecting a sagging rock star with a sketchy voice had to be surprised by his physical vitality and the clarity of his vocals.

From there, it’s just a matter of keeping an appreciation of the songs. There’s little doubt that Seger’s dogged entrenchment in rock radio rotations has worn out a sizable portion of his catalog in the ears of many, but the impassioned treatment they’re given live by Seger and his 13-piece backing band restores some of the authenticity stripped away by thousands of plays per day.

Admittedly still recovering from a bout with the flu that led to one show being canceled, yet was imperceptible in his performance, Seger’s entrance to the stage was as unassuming as the man himself. Donned in a headband and a beer-league baseball jersey reading “Harley-Davidson” on the back, with the unapologetic paunch to match, Seger walked out alongside his bandmates and, with little fanfare, the intro to the escapist elegy “Roll Me Away” rang out. His voice wasn’t as strong as on those clas sic records in which it’s been immortalized, but the late-era Seger possesses a gritty wail that still strikes at the nerve of his listeners the same way his indelible songwriter often does. There were blemishes at times, but even they felt soulful and genuine, and often appropriate within the context of the song.

Seger’s near-constant fist-pumping — a populist expression that seemed to work to energize him as much as it did the crowd — aside, there was little flamboyance to his presence. Most of that, however, was reserved for sideman Alto Reed. Like Keith is to Mick or Little Steven is to Bruce, Alto is to Bob. Aside from making full use of an arsenal of saxophones, Reed alternately took up acoustic guitar, flute and massive bass drums as the lineup on stage shifted with every song. He was at times a humble utilitarian, but it was his duckwalking on “Horizontal Bop,” his cool swagger under the spotlight for the intro to “Turn the Page” and the deployment of the hefty bass sax where he made his mark. It’s not that the other band members were stiffs; just the opposite. Mark Chatfield and Jim “Moose” Brown were sizzling on guitar and Don Brewer’s drum work was, well, competent as always (thanks Homer).

Seger chose a rather rigid set list for this tour, but the song selections for his two sets and two encores did well, drawing from his early days as a dogged rock survivalist to his later, more unrepentantly commercial years. Early on, he followed up his latest single — a gimme cover of Tom Waits’ “Downtown Train” — with his first hit ever in “Ramblin’, Gamblin’ Man,” but the first set was a solid mix of his blue-eyed ballads (“Mainstreet” and “Tryin’ to Live My Life Without You”), spiced up by a few rollicking boogie tunes (“Travelin’ Man’ and an explosive “Old Time Rock & Roll”).

His debut of the Against the Wind deep cut “Shining Brightly” on acoustic guitar was one of the few unexpected moments, as was the return of the Ike and Tina classic “Nutbush City Limits” to open the second set, but for all its sonic vibrancy, the rest of the show felt predictable. There was nothing from what’s arguably his unsung masterpiece Seven, which would have made for far better encore foil than “Hollywood Nights” or “Rock and Roll Never Forgets.” Even signing off “Katmandu” at the end of the second set with a “Goodnight everybody!” a la Live Bullet felt a little drawn up.

Nonetheless, there was a lot of goodwill transpiring on stage; as tired as he may be, Seger still shows constant appreciation for the players around him. He would fist-bump Reed after a particularly animated progression or point across the stage and smile to Chatman, who paid it forward with a bearhug to the young girl holding his guitar for him between encores. His time off the last few years has served him well, and it was vintage Silver Bullet on display, even if Seger did leave out a few of the irrefutable gems. Yeah, he didn’t play “Fire Lake” and he didn’t play “Still the Same,” but then again, he didn’t really have to.