Saturday, February 3, 2007

Bob Seger

At some point since Bob Seger went away, rock-and-roll ceded the blue-collar anthem to country music. Now Seger, at 61, is back to reclaim it.

Seger brought his Silver Bullet Band and his workingman's wisdom to Verizon Center on Thursday and stayed punched in for nearly 2 1/2 hours. The show had fewer frills than dinner at the automat: no strobe lights or smoke bombs or even a single video monitor. Just a fabulous 15-person band, a few spotlights and a whole lot of songs that everybody knows the words to.

There were a handful of unknowns in the set, too: Seger, whose voice and joy in performing are as bountiful as ever, is now touring behind "Face the Promise," his first new CD in 11 years. From that disc he introduced such tunes as "Wreck This Heart," an old-school rocker about a guy who's "got bills to pay, promises to keep" and can't get the "big boss" off his back. Highlights among the golden oldies included a pair of apostrophized "man" songs: "Travelin' Man," featuring the drumming of ex-Grand Funk Railroad backbeater Don Brewer, and "Ramblin' Gamblin' Man."

Seger fans have long bristled at having their guy compared unfavorably to that other '70s arena rocker with the initials "BS" who led a big band featuring a sax player (Alto Reed has been playing with Seger for 35 years now) and sang about fictional down-on- their-luck members of the proletariat. The "Springsteen for Dummies" gibes come from the fact that a lot of Seger's most familiar stuff, namely anything with "rock" or "roll" or both in the title, relies on more Chuck Berry riffs than a Chuck Berry song and seems written to end up in car commercials or on wedding- reception playlists.

But it's also true that Seger's lyrics often rose to levels at least as lofty as anything Springsteen or any other pop artist delivered.

During an encore, for example, Seger delivered "Night Moves," a simple song with a quiet bridge that contains perhaps the most spirit-crushing, life-is-passing-us-all-by passage ever to crash the Top 40. On this night, Seger sang the climactic clause -- "with autumn closing in" -- while wearing the same smile that he wore during the wedding-reception songs. But for fans of a certain age who have been mulling those words for more than three decades, the impact was beautifully devastating.

-- Dave McKenna

Red Jumpsuit Apparatus

There was once a time when "punk" indicated a potentially grating sound and a dedication to countercultural values. While those days are long over, the word is

still used to describe today's post-post-punk bands, five of which filled the 9:30 club to capacity of Thursday.

Not only do these bands -- particularly headliners the Red Jumpsuit Apparatus -- make listener-friendly power pop (a.k.a. emo), but they're also exactly the type of young men American parents would be proud to call their own. On top of that, lead singer Ronnie Winter's prayer request for soldiers in Iraq was honorable, and the group was performing as part of the "Take Action!" tour to raise money for suicide awareness and prevention.

These guys are, well, perfect. And that's the problem.

For all the good things about the Red Jumpsuit Apparatus, and there are many, the band's hour-long 12-song set was as efficient as it was personality-free.

The twin Gibson SG guitars of Elias Reidy and Duke Kitchens were processed with precise digital distortion, and their sound screamed, "We're a highly trained guitar army, not some ragtag group of recruits."

Winter's voice was helped with some effects, too, so his passionate yelp was always strong and clear -- except when he turned the mike toward the audience, as he did several times during such singalong hits as "Face Down," "False Pretense" and "Cat and Mouse."

Behind the scenes, things were run ultra-professionally, too, with the attentive stage crew dashing out to adjust microphones if they slipped even a millimeter, or kicking away a potentially dangerous item tossed onstage, such as a soft-foam-and-mesh trucker's cap.

Because it would have been a tragedy if the charismatic Winter, while singing uplifting words to his young flock, had turned around and slipped on a hat.

-- Christopher Porter

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