Bob Seger has a delicious dilemma. The veteran Michigan rocker has so many tasty hit songs that he can't perform them all in a two hour show. It's not even close.
The Rock & Roll Hall of Famer released his 20th album, "Face the Promise," in September, and yielded to fans who begged him to tour for the first time in 10 years.
There begins Seger's predicament. With so many hits, it was easy to put together a strong set list. On the other hand, many great songs couldn't be included in the 120 minute program.
Consequently, Seger trimmed his biggest single, "Shakedown," the theme song from Beverly Hills Cop 2. He cut "Shame on the Moon" and "Still the Same." There was no room for "Fire Lake," "Feel Like a Number" or "Like a Rock," either. Seger's song choices were sure to please some fans but disappoint others.
So what would he play? Well, I knew what I wanted to hear, "Ramblin' Gamblin' Man." My favorite Seger song had capped off an incredible string of hard rock singles including "East Side Story," "Persecution Smith," "Héavy Music," "Looking Back," and "Ivory," which, remarkably were only regional hits. Reaching number 17 on the Billboard singles chart, "Ramblin'" opened Seger's first LP and caught my attention along with many other fans and should have made the hard-working Ann Arbor native a superstar. But it didn't happen due to record company ineptitude.
Despite not succeeding with tons of memorable follow-up singles, Seger continued to record and tour. He deserves kudos for tenacity during those lean years. Seger recorded seven albums, only one of which, "Smokin' O.P.'s," has been issued on CD.
For years, I've heard stories from folks attending pre-fame Seger shows for a $2 admission. He even played concerts in the Upper Peninsula numerous times. But, I didn't go to any of those shows, thinking I'd catch him next time. Then Seger's 10th album,"Night Moves," struck in late 1976 and he no longer performed in northern Michigan.
When Seger announced his 2006 tour schedule, the time was right to see him in concert, at last. My wife Sue and I got tickets to the Nov. 16 concert at the Bradley Center in Milwaukee, just the fifth show of the tour, at the cost of $60 a seat, 30 times the early 70s price.
Seger and his Silver Bullet Band performed their first concert since 1996 at Van Andel Arena in Grand Rapids on Nov. 8. Not wanting a rude surprise in Milwaukee, I got a copy of the set list from the Michigan show. They played Sue's favorite Seger song, "Sunspot Baby," but, unfortunately, "Ramblin' Gamblin' Man" was not included.
Still, my anticipation was high as we took our seats at the Bradley. Just as the set list confirmed, Seger opened the show with "Roll Me Away," and "Tryin' To Live My Life Without You," before launching into "Wreck My Heart," the opening track from the new album. Then came "Mainstreet" and "Old Time Rock & Roll," the song an underwear-clad Tom Cruise so effectively ruined for me in the movie Risky Business. Next came the hard rockin' "Tomorrow" from "Greatest Hits 2," followed by two more new songs. Five additional classics came before intermission: "Betty Lou's Gettin' Out Tonight," "We've Got Tonite," "Turn The Page," "Travelin' Man" and "Beautiful Loser."
After a short break, the group was back on stage with another new track, "Simplicity." Then, to my astonishment, came the unforgettable opening notes of my favorite Seger song, "Ramblin' Gamblin' Man." Seger had dropped a new song and instead performed just this one record from his early years! There he was singing, "Cause I was born lonely, down by the riverside; learned to spin fortune wheels and throw dice." Chuck Berry's "C'est La Vie," "Wait For Me," and "Sightseeing" followed.
He finished the night with nothing but smashes: "Sunspot Baby," "Horizontal Bop," "Katmandu," "Night Moves," "Hollywood Nights," "Against the Wind," and "Rock & Roll Never Forgets."
Seger and his 13-member band, including three female back-up singers and the Motor City Horns, were wildly received by fans, playing a total of 25 songs.
Just one of the evening's highlights came on "Turn the Page." With saxophonist Alto Reed adding effective horn flourishes, Seger took to the piano for the classic tune, which he recalled he "wrote in a small town in Wisconsin in 1972."
Moving continuously across the stage during the evening, Seger showed plenty of energy, singing with unrestrained gusto, and drew cheers when he told fans he was 61. But, because the stage was "old school" there was no video screen. For folks who weren't seated near the front, like us, Seger was about half an inch tall.
The tour will continue into next year, so don't put off seeing one of rock's greatest talents, like I did. But, if you can't see the show, don't be surprised if Seger reviews his song list again in the next year or two for a concert album to put along side classics like "Live Bullet" and "Nine Tonight."
Popular music may have changed in the last decade, not necessarily for the better, but Seger still has his audience and thankfully we still have him.