Before the lights dimmed, by way of introduction, a voice intoned, “Are you ready for the real thing?”
The “thing,” of course, being Bob Seger and his Silver Bullet Band, a veteran clan often referred to as the Bruce Springsteen and E Street Band of the Midwest.
The comparison is true to an extent. Both possess endless catalogs of meaty rock tunes and have acquired admirably loyal fans who also share an affinity for beer and help sell out venues – though last night’s Philips Arena attendance was close, with about 85 percent of its seats filled.
But Seger’s gigs have never tried to ape the manic intensity of a Springsteen show and his Atlanta stop on this tour, slated to roll through May, exemplified his unassuming approach.
With his shaggy gray hair, goatee and glasses, Seger, who turns 66 in a few weeks, looked like the neighborhood bar keep – albeit one with a gravelly growl of a voice that instantly ignited blue collar rockers “Roll Me Away” and “The Fire Down Below.”
Seger doesn’t tour frequently (and he recently noted to Rolling Stone that this might be his last run), so he peppered his 25-song set list with many diehard-worthy tunes such as “Shinin’ Brightly” – which he said the band hadn’t performed for 31 years prior to this tour – and “Good for Me,” written in 1980 as a thank you to the band’s wives.
But the man has been doing this long enough to know that every “Real Mean Bottle,” a country-tinged stinger written by Vince Gill for Seger’s last studio album in 2006, needs to be countered with a pool hall classic.
The ubiquitous “Old Time Rock and Roll” – aka the song that pays Seger’s mortgage – made a blessedly early appearance so the concert wouldn’t hang on its inevitable arrival. Even with Seger singing it as opposed to, say, an “American Idol” contestant last week, the song has become a novelty, an overplayed karaoke anthem that, along with Kool and the Gang’s “Celebration,” really should be retired.
But of course Seger had to sing it for the three millionth time and turned out a perfectly respectable version.
More interesting was the eerie whine of Alto Reed’s saxophone that traced the melody line in “Mainstreet” and the blistering “Travelin’ Man,” which featured terrific mid-song drum and guitar solos.
Grand Funk Railroad drummer Don Brewer is part of the nine-piece Silver Bullet crew for this tour and along with guitarist Mark Chatfield and the four-piece Motor City Horns section, infused Seger’s songs with sizzle.
Though Seger noted that he had a bit of a cold, his symptoms were easily masked by a voice that is naturally gruff and not huge in range.
But that’s all part of his draw. No one really wants to see Seger do anything more than thrust his fists in the air and rock a little behind the mic, his hair tamed by a basic sweatband.
When he slid behind the piano for “We’ve Got Tonight,” gently crooning the sad tale of seduction, and remained there for the still-ominous “Turn the Page,” which the crowd sung along with heartily, it would have been hard to dispute that Seger is anything but the real thing.