Bob Seger says goodbye to NJ with life-affirming PNC Bank Arts Center concert

Bob Seger review

RICK DIAMOND

Bob Seger brought his final tour with his Silver Bullet Band to the PNC Bank Arts Center in Holmdel on June 1.

When he emerged more than a half century ago as an ambitious young musician, Bob Seger was among several acts, including The Stooges and The MC5, who typified the nascent hard-rock sound emanating from Detroit. But he soon stood out, thanks to constant touring and, most of all, a seemingly endless supply of gritty songs filled with blue-collar themes, catchy riffs and driving beats. He also had a knack for memorable ballads.

Within a decade, Seger had become a working-class hero to a generation of Americans who heard their perennially youthful dreams and frustrations in the lyrics of his song. And it was those life-affirming moments that thousands had a chance to enjoy once again when Seger played an overflowing PNC Arts Center in Holmdel on June 1, as part of his retirement tour.

Backed by his aptly named Silver Bullet Band, Seger didn’t disappoint. Sounding full-throated and displaying genuine enthusiasm for an adoring crowd, he turned out hit after hit during a show that covered a few of his earliest fan favorites to songs that have entered the pantheon of popular American culture.

From the opening notes of “Shakedown,” a straight-ahead rocker, to the plaintive aching for an out-of-reach woman memorialized in “Main Street,” Seger pushed all the right buttons. He veered from fast tunes, where he prowled the stage and strutted among the band members, to slow, soothing numbers, some of which found him strumming an acoustic guitar or playing the piano. He also avoided his lesser-known songs, smartly building momentum as if shoving quarters into a jukebox.

The audience ate it up. They were on their feet most of the night. They roared in appreciation when he offered up anecdotes. And they often sang along — not just belting out choruses, but sometimes full verses — on numerous songs, including “The Fire Down Below,” “You’ll Accompany Me” and “Turn the Page.” Their collective voices were particularly poignant as Seger sang “Beautiful Loser,” a song about questioning the wisdom in trying to have it all.

Of course, no one can have it all and, despite the warm rush of nostalgia, the message reverberated. Like his fans, Seger is older now. He’s 74, and the flowing dark brown hair that raced album covers decades ago is long gone and nearly all white. He wears wire-rim glasses — at least he does onstage — and leaves the electric guitar playing to his band. But other than a couple of moments where he had to work a little harder to reach a note, his presence itself reinforced the realistic lessons in his songs that life is to be lived.

This was especially true as he performed one of his most popular hits, “Against the Wind,” an extremely catchy and wistful song about lost youth and the passage of time. It was as if, for a few brief minutes, an entire amphitheater full of people were able to reach back in time, recall distant hopes and recognize the need to adjust.

Such moments were balanced, though, by a plethora of good time rockers that otherwise made the night feel like a party – “Old Time Rock and Roll,” “Travelin’ Man” and “Ramblin’ Gamblin’ Man” were highlights. (Unfortunately, he did not play a few other chestnuts of a similar vein: ‘Heavy Music,’ which in 1967 was his first hit, “Katmandu” or “Get Out of Denver.”)

For the most part, the songs were identical to those played on other shows of this tour, which Seger has said will be his last. However, he did veer from the usual set list to play “Downtown Train,” a Tom Waits classic that Seger recorded 20 years ago. He offered this a gesture for the New Jersey and New York audience, since we have a lot of trains in our area. Seger also gave a nod to New Jersey, specifically, by dedicating the song to two high-profile residents — Brian Williams and Bruce Springsteen — who were in attendance, although Springsteen remained offstage.

Of course, no review of a Seger concert is complete without mentioning the musicians and singers who created the invigorating nighttime sounds.

The Silver Bullet Band includes, most prominently, long-time saxophonist Alto Reed (Thomas Cartmell) plus four other horn players; a wonderful rhythm section in bassist Chris Campbell and drummer Greg Morrow; and three guitarists (Rob McNelley, Jim Brown and Mark Chatfield). On keyboards was Craig Frost, who was a member of another Detroit band, Grand Funk Railroad. And let’s not forget the back-up singers: Shaun Murphy (formerly of Little Feat), Laura Creamer, Barbara Payton.

At times, the effect was like listening to an old time rock ‘n’ soul revue.

Not surprisingly, the evening ended with two of Seger’s most popular and enduring songs: “Night Moves,” a radio staple that is still another ode to the past, and “Rock and Roll Never Forgets,” which gave the crowd one last chance to assert their belief that what drove them in their youth can continue to live on.

Sweet 16 may have turned 61, but for at least one night, Seger delivered on that promise: Rock ‘n’ roll just doesn’t forget.

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9 thoughts on “Bob Seger says goodbye to NJ with life-affirming PNC Bank Arts Center concert

  1. Bob Seger is awesome, however PNC is not. The sound system is awful, one of the reasons we were on our feet the whole night on the lawn was because we were packed in like sardines. And because we had to stand, we couldn’t see well. The owners of PNC should take a trip up to Bethel Woods to see how a venue treats the patrons and respects the artists.

  2. I agree with last commenter. Bob Seger was great however PNC sold me lawn tickets and I could not get within twenty yards of the lawn. Had to be oversold.

  3. Wow I’m sorry I missed this concert. SMH .
    I’m NOT sorry I missed being smashed in like sardines Not a great enjoyable evening like that & that is a shame because it could ruin the evening of a perfe8great concert depending on ur attitude ..I will have to look into the Venue someone spoke of called “Bethel Woods”
    I’m glad a was enjoyable concert for most or many ..Sorry I missed it…Darn!!!

  4. I did leave a comment above. It says awaiting moderation..
    In essence I said I was sorry I missed it and PNC does pack u in like Sardines & sometimes can ruin an evening depe6on your mindset at the time and the ppl.around u..Again regret not knowing about his concert because I Love Bob Seger
    & said I would look at the Bethel Wood Venue to see how that’s set up..
    I sometimes purchase tickets that allow.me.ro be pretty close but sometimes not .I don’t enjoy being packed in like sardines as they say either. It is what it is .I doubt PNC cares much as long as ppl con’ t to pay for substandard seating arrangements. Why would they? My orig comment is above..Not quite as harsh as this 1…

  5. How many comments do I need to leave I’ve left 2 …as well as my info ask for below..
    For the 3rd & FINAL TIME I will provide my name & such as needed!!!

  6. i came from albany for the concert. it was such a wonderful evening. i have seen seger in concert around six times the last few years. the man never disappoints. this was the first time i have ever been to pnc bank arts center. i cannot comment about what other folks are saying about how this venue is set up. especially on the lawn. i originally purchased a premium lawn seat the day of presale. . since i was coming alone i checked the ticket master website and saw they did have a few good single seats left. the day before the show i upgraded my ticket and i was seating in section 301. i have no complaints about the seat, sound or venue, etc. if another act that i really liked was playing there i definitely would seriously consider coming back.

  7. Beautiful loser is Bob Seger. Bob Seger’s been writing about greed for many years that’s what the line means in the song, you can’t have it all. A couple of other songs about greed are, cross of gold and neon sky. Great review . PS bob Seger never cared about making a gazillion dollars , he cared about making a living doing what he loved to do Music.

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