Home is where the heart is.
Singer Bob Seger's heart has always felt at home in West Michigan, from the smoky, cramped bars he once frequented with his fledgling rock band in the '60s to the sprawling stage he roamed inside Van Andel Arena on Saturday, with a capacity crowd of 12,000-plus cheering his every move.
And with fellow Michigan icon and superstar guest Kid Rock joining him on that stage for a sterling rendition of “Real Mean Bottle,” Seger and his Silver Bullet Band rocked that home to its very foundation and nearly tore the roof off.
What had been a solid, ebullient two-hour concert – a far more confident, amped-up display than Seger's tour opener a week earlier in Toledo – suddenly became a truly special event as the buzz about Kid Rock's possible appearance became reality.
“I've got two words for you,” Seger teased. “Kid Rock!”
As the Detroit-area pals hugged on stage, the atmosphere inside the rollicking arena turned electric, and the pair didn't defuse any of the excitement with their boisterous version of the country-drenched duet that first appeared on Seger's 2006 album, “Face the Promise.”
It was a near-perfect ending to a second set on Saturday that spotlighted a truly jubilant 65-year-old Seger who seemed ecstatic about being back in Grand Rapids, the same Michigan city and same venue where he kicked off his 2006 comeback tour.
Keyboard player Craig Frost was all smiles after the show when asked about playing with Kid Rock, aka Bob Ritchie. “It was fun,” he beamed. “He's a great guy.”
Although there were still some glitches during the fourth stop on Seger's spring tour – a few rough starts, some microphone pops, the singer missing a line in “Betty Lou's Gettin' Out Tonight” – things were mostly smoother, the energetic 13-piece band was really cooking and Seger seemed just plain euphoric throughout.
Maybe it helped matters that local-boy-made-good Frankie Ballard, formerly of Battle Creek and Kalamazoo, opened the evening in rip-snorting country-rock fashion with an energetic 40-minute set that showed him off as a remarkably polished performer capable of going places.
The young singer-guitarist signed two years ago to the Warner Bros. label and his finely tuned four-piece band unfurled enticing banjo- and rock-infused country songs – “Tell Me You Get Lonely,” “Single Again,” and “A Buncha Girls” – that especially seemed to rev up female fans.
The baseball player-turned-country star also earned bonus points from the baby boomers on hand by closing out his set with a rousing cover of Creedence Clearwater Revival's 1969 song, “Fortunate Son,” in tribute to troops overseas.
It was hard not to imagine a young Seger 40 years ago in exactly the same sort of situation as Ballard, in a vest and tight jeans igniting a crowd while blazing the beginnings of an impressive musical trail.
If Seger's at the end of that trail – sporting gray hair, old-guy spectacles and vocal cords that don't hold out notes as long as they used to – he didn't show it on Saturday, and his ultra-ardent fans certainly weren't about to let him ride off into the sunset.
The passion clearly is still there, invigorating his arsenal of two dozen songs played over two sets, two encores and more than two hours.
With Frost, saxophonist Alto Reed and lead guitarist Mark Chatfield leading the charge, Seger may have done his best work on “Her Strut,” “Travelin' Man,” “Beautiful Loser,” “Hollywood Nights” “Turn the Page,” “Shining Brightly” and “Gets Ya Pumpin',“ a muscular “new” old rocker that he's playing on tour for the first time after it appeared on 2009's ”Early Seger Vol. 1” album.
Backing vocalists Shaun Murphy, Laura Creamer and Barbara Payton were flawless in adding a gospel/soul flavor that gives Seger's songs that Motor City grit.
At first wearing a dark Nike muscle shirt, then changing into a Harley Davidson jersey, Seger doesn't look the part of a rock star these days. But that just makes him even more of a blue-collar hero: He's one of us.
Granted, the set list for his 2011 tour was mostly predictable. As Seger told me in an earlier interview, there are “10 to 12 songs we have to do” every night on tour or fans will revolt.
That's understandable for a chart-topping Rock and Roll Hall of Famer, but it would have been refreshing to hear the driving “Feel Like a Number,” which the singer apparently rehearsed but dropped from the tour-opening set, or “Still the Same,” one of his biggest hits and a signature Seger tune.
But give him credit for the scintillating duet on Saturday with Kid Rock on “Real Mean Bottle,” not to mention pulling out “Her Strut,” “Come to Poppa,” “Ramblin' Gamblin' Man” and “Nutbush City Limits” for this tour.
And it's tough to argue with success: Saturday's crowd was every bit as pumped up to hear the same closing songs that the Silver Bullet Band played in Grand Rapids in 2006: “Against the Wind,” “Hollywood Nights,” “Night Moves” and “Rock and Roll Never Forgets.”
The formula works because these catchy, classic tunes – all released more than three decades ago – breed nostalgic charm, and the Silver Bullet Band plays them with gusto.
More important, they're made-in-Michigan trademarks written and sung by a rocker who's always embraced his roots and his made-in-Michigan fans … including Kid Rock.
SOURCE: John Sinkevics / MichiganLive.com