Bob Seger With Heartless Bastards American Airlines Center, Dallas Thursday, February 12, 2015
Every time I go to a show at American Airlines Center (counting Thursday night's Bob Seger concert, I've been to four), I have that one friend who says something like, "Ugh. Why? I'd rather see a band in a small club." And I sort of get that, because obviously, unless you've paid a lot of money to be up front, you lose the immediacy and intimacy of being a foot from the footlights at Club Dada. The tradeoff for being that close to the people playing onstage at your neighborhood 300-capacity rock club is that they are probably not Bob Seger and the Silver Bullet Band, classic rock statesmen who likely haven't set foot on a small stage since the Johnson administration.
As it happens, I'm something like five rows up from the floor, stage right. At that distance, I can see even closer fans reflected in Seger's glasses when he swaggers to the corners and fist pumps the microphone at them during the chorus of "Rock and Roll Never Forgets." That might sound corny to the person posted up in front of a two-foot tall stage and panting in anticipation for the Pains of Being Pure at Heart, or I don't know, Ishi. But I assure you that being close enough to Seegs to see the sweat stains on his black button-down is probably a lot better.
The show starts at 7:30; Cincinatti's Heartless Bastards are the opener, but my friend Jordan and I are more interested in people watching, so we get beers and hotdogs and hover between a condiment station and a garbage can opposite a merch pavilion. Seger's logo is among the all-time tightest, and it's tempting to join the crowd queuing up for a $30 T-shirt. But I know how those things fit, and I'd rather drink at least three more beers anyway.
It goes without saying, but the predominant look among Bob Seger fans is "Dad," because even when the dads come with moms, the dad look is so overpowering that the couples generally become a single unit of gray hair, denim and Wilson's Leather. I'd like to not frame a Bob Seger concert in the context of age, but that's like trying to write about elephants without making any Dumbo or Horton Hears a Who jokes. (At least there aren't any tables offering AARP or Cialis literature.)
Eventually, I hear Heartless Bastards finish, and after finishing another beer, we make our way to the seats. The crowd looks to be sold-out, and its vibe is ecstatic. As the lights go down, I look across the stage to the other side of the arena, and a woman is waving a big black banner with "MARRY ME, BOB" printed in white. It's that kind of show in other words.
Seegs and company run through a set that's heavy on the singles from Night Moves, Stranger in Town and Against the Wind, though he also adds plenty of material from his newest album, last year's Ride Out. One of these is Steve Earle's "Devil's Right Hand," causing a man six or seven seats away to pretty much lose his mind.
One thing that's refreshing is that Seger plays these songs with very little banter, though he sits down with an acoustic to introduce a song about his brother-in-law, who is apparently a fireman in Arizona. Of course he has a song like this, because he writes heartland rock, but it's not terrible. It kind of sounds like a Dave Matthews song minus the nonsense.
Then the band launches into "Her Strut," and I realize that even though the guy is 69 years old, there's a reason why his records have sold zillions of copies. His voice is pure, raspy gold. I also realize the mix is heavy on maracas, because the sax guy has about 30 in each hand. He looks like he's selling them. I don't want to fault him for this, because he's the guy who came up with canonical sax licks like the one in "Main Street", and he also has the ignominious tax of playing a bass sax, an instrument so comically large you expect a little person to pop out of the end during a deliberately out-of-key honk. He also has a ponytail, a funny sculpted beard and never takes his shades off. So really, the joke is probably on me.
They play "Like a Rock," and while I'm reminded that the parking lot was full of a ton of Chevy pickups, the smug commercialism of that song completely vanishes when it gets to the guitar solo, a sound I've come to associate with spoken copy about Motor Trend Trucks of the Year and year-end sales events, because heard live, the solo is enormous and moving. It's like the Blue Angels flying directly over your head, except inside a basketball arena.
Seger ends with a new song called "Detroit Man" or some such, and it occurs to me that a band like the Dropkick Murphys or the Hold Steady owes huge debts to this man. The set ends, and the band comes back after about two minutes to encore with "Hollywood Nights" and "Against the Wind" (complete with a line about the Cowboys that goes over predictably well), before finishing strong with "Night Moves."
I watch the band join him in a line across the stage; he gives them a three-count before they take a bow, and a man in the row in front of me who looked to be in his 50s goes, "Pretty good for a 69 year-old!" As we all walk out, I hear him tell his wife, "That put a smile on my face." And that's ultimately what made my night.
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