It’s no secret why Bob Seger would kick off a tour in Toledo.
Where else – other than Michigan, of course – can he find thousands of rabid fans who will pack an arena, know every word to his songs, and make him feel like a great old friend who has come home from a long trip?
Wednesday night before a full house at the Huntington Center, Seger delivered a surprisingly diverse 23-song set of music over two-plus hours that covered his entire career while mixing in some welcome new material.
He started the show with a new song, a rocker about a Detroit girl, looking loose and happy and dressed in all black, his trademark silver beard framing a big smile. The Motor City rocker never announced the name of the song, a four-on-the-floor thumper that was packed with car metaphors.
From there he slipped into more familiar material, sliding into the funky rhythm and blues chestnut “Trying To Live My Life Without You” and a grinding take on “Fire Down Below.”
Like most of the rock groups that made their bones grinding it out on ’70s arena tours (the J. Geils Band, Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band, etc.) Seger brings a sweaty work ethic to his craft that has more in common with a blue collar laborer than a rock star. The music is gritty and tight, packed with a purposeful punch, and designed to entertain.
He dedicated “Old Time Rock and Roll” to a niece and nephew who were at the show from Akron. Over the years, the familiar song has taken on a ritualistic vibe and by the time the house lights went up, thousands of hands were clapping in unison to the beat while Seger air boxed in perfect time.
The show was not without flaws. The arrangement for “Ramblin’ Gamblin’ Man” overemphasized Seger’s three backup singers and bass player Chris Campbell was having his instrument worked on as the tune kicked off, which meant he didn’t start playing until a few verses into the song.
And while Seger deserves major credit for introducing a cover of the Billy Bragg/Wilco version of Woody Guthrie’s “California Stars” to the crowd, it fell flat. Here’s hoping he sticks with it, though, or at least puts it on the new album he said he is working on.
He also played another new song which he said was about his career and was called “All of the Words.” The midtempo, acoustic rocker went over well, and it’s evident that Seger has the potential for some strong new work if, as he said, he “ever gets it done.”
The new material gave the concert a fresh feel and wasn’t a repeat of his most recent shows here two years ago. A standout was “Like a Rock,” which he said he hadn’t played in 25 years. Sitting center stage with an acoustic guitar, Seger delivered an impassioned version of the song, reclaiming it from its overexposure as a corny tune used to sell trucks and repackaging it as a full-blown anthem.
The blistering double shot of “Travelin’ Man” and “Beautiful Loser” loosely framed the first half of the concert from the second, showcasing his band.
At 67 Seger showed absolutely no signs of his age as he tore through “Her Strut,” “Nutbush City Limits,” “Katmandu” and slowed it down for ballads such as “Night Moves,” “We’ve Got Tonight,” and “Turn the Page.” His voice was strong and he moved with energy, fully committed to rocking out in his home away from home.
Seger plays a second show at the Huntington Center in Toledo at 8 p.m. Friday. The tour hits Grand Rapids’ Van Andel Arena at 7:30 p.m. Tuesday. Homecoming dates at the Palace of Auburn Hills are scheduled for April 11 and 13.
By Rod Lockwood
The Blade (Toledo)