|Photo by Armando Brown/courtesy OC Register|
A version of my review originally appeared in the Orange County Register.
When Bob Seger sang “today’s music ain’t got the same soul” during his signature 1978 tune “Old Time Rock and Roll” early on Wednesday at Staples Center, the lyric rang especially true.
While Seger initially wrote it (but didn’t take credit) about ‘60s groups, the sentiment has since come full circle. Few, if any, young music stars currently making waves could match him in the heart and soul department.
Those qualities have helped the veteran heartland rocker – now at the half century mark as a recording artist - retain an enduring popularity despite sporadic tours and studio albums over the past two decades. 1994’s “Greatest Hits,” a perennial best-selling catalog album, has moved nine million copies.
Longtime enthusiasts have had plenty of freshly remastered Seger titles to savor lately. First came 1976’s superb sounding “Live Bullet” (frequently cited among critics as one of best concert recordings ever) and 1981’s equally stellar “Nine Tonight” (as a junior high schooler, I nearly wore out my vinyl copy upon release). Both contain bonus tracks.
“Ultimate Hits: Rock and Roll Never Forgets,” a new 26-track retrospective, is available as a double CD or digitally. It is most notable for the mono mix of “Ramblin’ Gamblin’ Man” and Seger’s passionate take on Tom Waits’ “Downtown Train” (a recent top 20 hit at Adult Contemporary radio).
Seger has recorded half a dozen songs for a new studio album expected sometime in 2012. One song features Kid Rock and Sheryl Crow (the three also appeared together on Rock’s last effort, “Born Free”). Although the 66-year-old Rock and Roll Hall of Famer has hinted about retirement, he apparently plans to hit the road again once it is finished.
Due to the long periods between studio albums and concert jaunts (the Los Angeles show was Seger’s first area appearance since 2007; prior to that, more than a decade elapsed), fans tend to speculate the reasons were about health instead of fatherhood.
One guy was overheard telling friends the musician had to lose weight and get a doctor’s approval to finally head out on the road again. True? Doubtful, considering Seger’s an avid runner and recently told Rolling Stone magazine, “on tour, it just falls away – violent exercise up there.”
Seger and the tight 13-piece Silver Bullet Band opened the engaging, nearly two hour set in a reflective manner with “Roll Me Away.” The singer was quietly accompanied by Craig Frost’s subtle piano work before everyone gradually joined in and went full throttle.
For many rock bands, the live show is all about the electric guitar. This evening, the emphasis was on brass – mainly Silver Bullet saxophonist Alto Reed and the four man Motor City Horns.
Their usually exhilarating take on the Otis Clay popularized “Tryin’ to Live My Life Without You” was just ok here. A poor vocal mix meant the frontman’s raspy (and occasionally croaky) singing was barely heard over the band at times.
Placing a now-trademark bandana around his head, Seger and company sizzled on “The Fire Down Below.” After playing the wistful “Main Street” seated on acoustic guitar, he and Reed really worked up a sweat on the party vibe of “Old Time Rock and Roll,” with the latter simultaneously stomping his feet and honking on the sax notes.
Lead guitarist Kenny Greenberg provided a dazzling solo on an intense “Travelin’ Man,” which segued nicely, as always, into the stately ballad “Beautiful Loser.” Seger gave the lowdown on several songs. Before playing piano on a wonderful “We’ve Got Tonight,” he recalled being inspired by dialogue from the Robert Redford film, “The Sting.”
Halfway through the show, things really started to cook with their usual energetic cover of Tina Turner’s “Nutbush City Limits” and the urgent psychedelic R&B of Willie Mitchell’s “Come to Papa,” where Greenberg played wah wah effects and Laura Creamer banged on a large drum. She and the other two female backing singers did some fine call and response action with Seger.
“Her Strut” was fiery as ever (I never knew it was about Jane Fonda) and the Vince Gill-penned rave up “Real Mean Bottle” was total fun. Elsewhere, a dramatic “Turn the Page” went down a storm inside the packed arena as fans sang along loudly to the classic rock radio fave.
The fast-paced “Katmandu” was a bit taxing for Seger, but still a total blast with Reed – among many long serving Silver Bullets for decades – who slid across the stage and did King Curtis-styled blasts.
Seated with an acoustic guitar again for encores of “Against the Wind” and “Night Moves,” Seger recalled living in L.A. and going to Zuma Beach amid the recording sessions for 1986’s “Like a Rock.” By the end of “Rock and Roll Never Forgets,” he left fans with a memorable concert.