- The Washington Times - Friday, February 2, 2007

The Detroit auto industry is running out of gas, the Tigers lost the World Series in five games, and Michigan narrowly missed a shot at the national collegiate title last fall. But cruel fate holds no dominion over the ageless Bob Seger and his Silver Bullet Band, one Detroit export that never disappoints.

Sixty one-year-old Seger - on tour for the first time in a decade but looking fit and obviously running on high-octane fuel - had a nearly sold-out house at the Verizon Center Thursday night bouncing in the aisles to his rockers and nodding and swaying to his schlockers. After two-plus hours of Motor City mayhem, there was no doubt that DC still likes Seger’s old time rock and soul.

Mr. Seger says he preferred the music of James Brown to the Beatles in his youth, and it showed in his gospel-tinged, soul-shout vocals and the frequent use of R&B; rhythms and arrangements by his band, which numbered 14 or so pieces when augmented by the Motor City Horns and three female back-up singers.

There is still nothing remotely pretentious about Mr. Seger. Now silver- haired and dressed in the same simple black t-shirt and jeans on both sides of the intermission, Mr. Seger frequently worked his way out to the far corners of the stage and exhorted the crowd to sing and move with him, pumping and thrusting his arms to the beat of ex-Grand Funk drummer Don Brewer.

Mr. Seger’s best songs paint vivid landscapes of working class America, real and mythic. You could feel the anguish of lonely and sometimes-harassed musicians stuck on the endless road on a riveting version of “Turn the Page,” easily the best and most convincing ballad of the night. Alto Reed’s plaintve, wailing sax lines pierced to the bone as Mr. Seger stroked the piano keys.

It was preceded by another ballad, “We’ve Got Tonight,” which demonstrated Mr. Seger’s regrettable tendency to sometimes sail a little too close to the reefs of Kenny Rogers-like schlock. Even though ballads such as those have accounted for most of his biggest hits, Mr. Seger is at his best when playing low-down, gritty rock’n’roll.

For this tour, Mr. Seger has revived — for the first time in 26 years — his 1968 hit, “Ramblin’ Gamblin’ Man.” Wisely, he didn’t mess with the original formula, since it is hard to improve on perfection. The Bob Seger System, as the band was then called, wouldn’t have another big hit for seven years, but the band continued to tour incessantly until the hits finally began to flow.

“Fire Down Below,” which the band has not been performing at most other recent shows, is one of rock’s true masterpieces of seething lust, a song that wouldn’t be out of place on the Stones’ “Exiles on Main Street” or “Sticky Fingers.” Last night, the Silver Bullet Band hammered it home with visceral impact, with Mark Chatfield’s lead guitar providing the proper sting and Chris Campbell (the band’s bassist since 1968) making it all churn.

Mr. Seger closed the regular set with two more of the band’s best rockers: “Horizontal Bop” and a frenzied “Katmandu.” The band encored with “Night Moves” and “Hollywood Nights,” then came back yet again for “Against the Wind” and “Rock ‘n’ Roll Never Forgets.”

The show included a good helping of numbers from the band’s new album, “Face the Promise,” and most of it sounded better live. “Real Mean Bottle” was probably the best of the lot, with Mr. Brewer handling the vocal duet lines that Kid Rock does on the album.

The show was opened by Steve Azar, a highly competent alt-country-rocker who told the crowd, “We’re here to get you lubed for Bob Seger!” He played his hit, “I Don’t Have to Be Me (‘Til Monday),” and a tribute to Stevie Ray Vaughn from a new album.

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