Bob Seger and Bruce Springsteen have more in common than their initials.
On Saturday, Springsteen will bid farewell to Broadway with a Netflix special as he ends his 15-month run. On Wednesday, Seger said so long to the Twin Cities as he ended a 50-year run of concerts here.
Like the Boss, Seger has been a champion of heartland rock, sharing a gritty earnestness and political awareness while romanticizing blue-collar themes and Main Street values. These rock heroes are vulnerable yet resilient, hardworking yet fun-loving, poetic yet artifice-free.
On Broadway, Springsteen, in his tight black T-shirt and jeans, has been doing it solo, with heightened drama and dollops of humor. At the Xcel Energy Center, Seger, sporting a baggy black T and jeans, did it with 14 musicians and his usual no-frills staging. The Silver Bullet Band sounded sterling, and Seger had that old time rock ’n’ roll spirit.
What he didn’t have was his old-time voice. He could still scream, but his midrange lacked nuance, force and clarity. He sounded hoarse rather than raspy, often clipping off the end of his phrases or letting his voice fade too soon. Maybe he was fighting a cold or suffering from wintry dry throat (he gulped Gatorade after nearly every number) or the sound engineer forgot to turn up the star’s voice in the mix. Too often the band, buoyed by three female backup singers, carried the song, and the fans sang along, with Seger turning the microphone to them for punchlines on “Old Time Rock ’n’ Roll,” “Rock ’n’ Roll Never Forgets” and other favorites.
Whatever the issue was, at times it felt like this Bob Seger concert strangely turned into a Michael Bolton show. And nothing against Bolton except he’s not a Rock Hall of Famer with a jukebox full of hits drawing 16,000 to a sold out arena.
Seger, who took a 10-year hiatus to raise his kids before returning to the road in 2006, certainly sounded in better voice five years ago at the X. At 73, he looks thinner now and moves more gingerly, probably due to emergency back surgery last year that postponed a segment of his final tour, including the St. Paul show. (“Next year I’ll be available for weddings. Keep me in mind,” he joked before singing, “You’ll Accompany Me,” which isn’t exactly a wedding song.)
When Seger sat down at the grand piano or the band dialed it down to an acoustic vibe, he actually seemed to find his voice. “We’ve Got Tonight” and “Turn the Page” (featuring Alto Reed’s lonely, jazzy saxophone) were Seger at his talk-sing best. By contrast, the singer struggled with pitch and control on the gentle piano reading of “Forever Young” (“written by the Mount Everest of songwriters, Minnesota’s own Bob Dylan”), which he dedicated to recently departed musical heroes whose photos were projected on a big screen, including Leonard Cohen, Aretha Franklin, Tom Petty (big cheers), Prince (bigger cheers), Chuck Berry (a big influence) and Glenn Frey (a close friend).
The Detroiter told a couple of back stories, emphasizing his Midwestern roots such as “Like a Rock” being inspired by his running high school cross-country in Michigan and recording that line about “on a highway east of Omaha” in “Turn the Page” in a studio in Oklahoma.
It was impossible to argue with so many classic songs delivered by a spirited, first-rate band made up of Nashville pros and Detroit veterans, one of whom has been on tour with Seger since 1969. The baby-boomer fans sang along for the entire two hours and cheered loudly after every selection. But this wasn’t the kind of I’m-so-happy-I-was-there concert swan song Minnesota music lovers experienced earlier this year with Paul Simon, Phil Collins or Joan Baez.
This was a two-hour celebration of indelible songs with Middle America sensibilities by the Midwesterner who created them. But when such meat-and-potatoes rock features dry, overcooked steak, I’d rather go home and do what Seger advises in song: “Take those old records off the shelf …”