Seger’s decades long appeal is built on the fact he is one of us. In contrast, David Bowie is not one of us, and his appeal is of a different sort. Seger came roaring out of the heartland in the 60s and he has been reflecting on that legacy ever since. Whether exploring teenage mysteries in the back seat of a Chevy or the heartache of a gone girlfriend (‘wish I didn’t know now what I didn’t know then’), Seger has been leaning against the wind for decades.
His fans celebrate the Rocky-like underdog nature of Seger. There were more than a few canes in the audience, and Seger himself hides neither his paunch nor his grey hair. Indeed, Seger cleverly took the stage to the sounds of John Fogerty’s “Old Man Down the Road.” Two hours later, Seger had delivered a setlist bulging with crowd favorites and a smattering of tracks from his strong new album Ride Out (his 17th studio album).
The peak moment of the concert brought together all of Seger’s appealing elements. It was about halfway through the evening. The pairing of “Travelin’ Man” with “Beautiful Loser” was the gem in his 1975 live collection, and it remains so in his concerts to this day. Anthemic, with a solid bedrock of guitars, the pair of songs evince the road weary Seger marching on. The chord change between the songs is just about perfect. The engine room (bassist Chris Campbell and drummer Don Brewer) propel the emotional momentum and everything coalesces. It is a very fine moment.
Despite his blue collar roots, Seger has never been shy about the allure of the left coast. “Hollywood Nights” and a cover of the Billy Bragg/Wilco tune “California Stars” (itself written by the original heartlander Woody Guthrie) were sprinkled in the setlist. The latter’s lyrics capture several emotions: ‘I’d like to dream my troubles all away / On a bed of California stars.’
But the heartland is where Seger is most comfortable: “Main Street,” “”Like a Rock” and “Detroit Made” (a John Hiatt cover) were proudly assayed.
The well-oiled band was large and cohesive. Seger was the perfect bandleader, introducing and giving credit to each member. He failed to mention that Brewer is one of Homer Simpson’s favorite drummers, but that is no aspersion to the keeper of Grand Funk’s flame.
The perfectly structured set closer was “Rock and Roll Never Forgets.”