It was nearly four years ago when The Spin last caught self-proclaimed ramblin’, gamblin’ man Bob Seger at Bridgestone arena. And it had not been the most glamorous of sights — there were mullets, chewing tobacco canisters and T-shirts implying blind patriotism and his (other) Bobness abounding. So when Seger announced he’d wind down his latest tour in Nashville, we knew the Harley-riding baby boomers would flood Lower Broadway in anticipation of the raspy soul-rock legend.
And the boomers did not disappoint.
Four years older, Seger’s disciples still swell with blue-collar pride. When we got to our seats, the arena was already full (nearly to capacity) with endearingly weathered faithful. The fans had a few more wrinkles and aching joints than the last time Seger visited Davidson County. Folks were showing off photos of grandkids while John Fogerty’s CCR ripoff “The Old Man Down the Road” blasted over the house PA. The business in the front was receding and the party in the back was quite a bit grayer, but in spite of their age, these elders were over the moon, primed for a night of blue-eyed blues and funky old soulful rock ‘n’ roll.
Amid the rumble of conversations about hip replacements and RV road trips (sorry to pile on but, you know …), the house lights dimmed and The Silver Bullet Band took their places. The rumbles grew to cheers as The Sege hulked to center stage, pulled the mic to his white goatee and bellowed “NASH-VILLE!” Their ringleader had arrived. Seger’s minions raised their clear plastic chalices of overpriced Bud Light and echoed the call as Bob and band launched into “Roll Me Away,” off of 1983’s The Distance. A silver-haired woman a row in front of us threw her AARP card to the wind, jumped up on her seat and started dancing like she was in a cage on MTV’s The Grind.
Twenty feet ahead, another excited fan with frosted tips and a white-denim rhinestone Pepsi jacket took selfies and bounced through the aisles. Seger fans — who we count ourselves amongst — may not be Oxford professors, they (or rather, we) may even be the poor man’s Springsteen fans, but what they (or rather, we) lack in sophistication, they (or rather, we) overcompensate for in enthusiasm. Maybe it’s because it was a Saturday, but these arena-wide night moves were a marked improvement over the sleepy Seger crowd that mostly sat glued to their seats at Seger’s 2011 Bridgestone show, which happened on a Thursday. Also a marked improvement: That show featured a Kid Rock guest spot and this one did not.
For the next two hours, Bob and band predictably played classic after classic from the FM era. Occasionally, the singer would give concession vendors a bump in business by sneaking in a newer tune (like a main-set-closing cover of John Hiatt’s “Detroit Made”) from his ominously titled, Nashville-recorded 2014 LP Ride Out. But for the most part, the show was a greatest-hits revue. We got to hear most of our favorite 105.9 jams, dating back even to Bob Seger System material of the ’60s. There were sax solos and crowd-regaling anecdotes from the early Silver Bullet days. There was piano boogie-woogie and a love ballad to Chevy trucks. At every stage banter break, Seger took the opportunity to express how much Music City has meant to his career. Each time, Middle Tennesseans responded with an approving roar.
The set had a natural ebb and flow between stripped-down tender moments and up tempo roof-raisers. What we noticed, however, was that the night mover had a far more magnetic presence simply seated behind an acoustic guitar or piano than he did fronting the full band with just a microphone. Between his tight pants, his headband and audience-rivaling uncoordinated dance moves, he was like the Richard Simmons of AOR. But no mater what he did, the fans were sold. We saw old men dancing. We saw ushers clapping. We saw a cougar nearly brought to tears by “We’ve got Tonight.” All sights and sounds part and parcel to the Seger concert experience. If we could have had our own way, we would have selected more deep cuts and Bob would have taken more risks, like singing “Old Time Rock & Roll” sporting only a pink button-down dress shirt and socks. But as triumph-over-adversity ballads like “Against the Wind” taught us long ago, life is full of tough choices when it comes to what to leave in and what to leave out.
In his double-overtime encore, the Motor City rocker brought out the big guns, ripping through “Hollywood Nights,” before recounting his awkward teenage blues before “Night Moves” and, older but still running, busting out “Against the Wind.” But mostly he reminded us all that “Rock and Roll Never Forgets.”