Detroit ’77: Seger’s Open For Business
DETROIT– Pontiac Stadium is bigger than the Houston Astrodome. When they have football games here, they seat 80,000.
When the Who played this joint, they sold between 76-78,000 tickets. Aerosmith, with the aid of Ted Nugent and Foghat, did 74,000. Bob Seger didn't sell out Pontiac Stadium, but he did move 65,000 tickets, forget seats, it's festival seating, in other words squat and bear it. Even if this place is, as the scoreboard kept reminding us, "The world's largest enclosed structure," with "The world's biggest sound system."
I've seen Bob Seger open for "heavies" at Cobo Hall, I've seen him headline all sorts of medium-size local halls, because he's a local hero and everytime he plays here it's old-home-week…But I've never seen nothing like this before.
Just picture yourself in the typical festival-seating charnel house rock-a-rena venue, everyone sweaty and staggering and even the little girls in their halter tops losing a bit of their magnetism through the magic of steam-heat environment; stringy hair, psychotically glazed eyes, etc. The first thing I saw as I trekked across acres of parking lot was a fat kid, with rumpled shirt tails out, stumble and fall proboscis first into the pavement. You gotta understand that a lot of these kids were here since 5 P.M., by 8 the toxicity level began to separate the survivors from the sorry jacks. By the time Seger finished his third encore it was 2 A.M., and these kids had been 7 hours camping-out in this place.
Don't let anybody tell you, ever again, that rock and roll is people's music – rock and roll is $8.50 a ticket for Bob Seger, and there is an elite, and so what? Understand, I'm not complaining about my assigned press-box, not on your life, when by the simple expedient of walking through a door flashing a pass, you move from the Chicago stockyards to a country-club with fully stocked free bar, over-stuffed couches, all the elite of Detroit media, radio, etc., shooting the bull, drinking, and staying as far away from Rundgren's synthesizer as possible. My only complaint is that they didn't pass out lorgnettes, because you could hardly see the guy up there where, outside the press-box bar, we lounged back in swivel-chairs with our legs upon the counter next to our drinks, idly taking in the rompinstompins. There was one of those big screens above the stage that makes a close-up of Todd Rundgren's face which makes you think he is a Negro. To see you had to be out there on the floor of the charnel house, to hear too.
Bob Seger, here is a guy who has a lot of grit and soul and rock and roll power of the most primal sort. Trouble is, it's spread butter-thin over several albums and long out-of-print singles. If somebody was to put together the following Seger songs on one LP, it would be one of the all-time killers: ‘Persecution Smith’, ‘Sock it to Me Santa’, ‘Heavy Music’, ‘Ramblin', Gamblin' Man’, ‘2+2=?’, ‘Lucifer’, ‘Mongrel’ – That's one side, add most of the rest of Mongrelfor the other. All these songs are rock and roll classics, right up there with the best of the Stones, Berry, you name it. They'll floor you. But they're mighty hard to get. Contrary to his recent live double-album, Bob performed nearly all these titles in one long medley. This was old home week indeed, and for the medley, the energy level in the room rose so measurably it made toes curl and hair singe. It was rock and roll dynamism animalism perfecto. It was everything I wish Bruce Springsteen was – those few elements of true-grit he lacks. It was also a bunch of songs written upwards of or more than a decade ago. Next to them, ‘Katmandoo’ and ‘Beautiful Loser’ just don't cut it. In fact, much of the rest of the set was downright competent, which is worse than bad, any Detroit A-hole can be competent, but it takes nerve to be bad in front of 10-billion locals, and not give-a-damn. Competence is just a code-word for mediocrity. And at his worst, Bob Seger is as mediocre as they come. For instance, he over relies on oldies, and the most obvious ones to boot: ‘Bo Diddly’, ‘Let It Rock’, ‘Little Queenie’. Now he's added Ronnie Hawkins' ‘Mary Lou’ but adds nothing to it, or any of the others. So why do 'em? Because the rest of his originals he don't cut it? Because nobody ever heard them before? – No, I'll even give him that excuse, these kids are young. This juke-box jive has been done to death by everybody from Stones to Ramones, Bo Diddly to Bill Medly. Anyway, if none of these kids remember anything, why not just hit'em with ‘Sock It To Me, Santa’, ‘Persecution Smith’, ‘Lookin' Back’ and all those other self-penned Seger classics.
Also, Bob has absolutely no sense of stage presence. His idea of on-stage physical projection is to rock back and forth slightly, clapping hands and bobbing head. He has made music with more teeth than Ted Nugent's wildest dreams, yet ironically he projects this utterly depressing sense of restraint. I just don't know what's wrong with the man. But I do know this – when he did the standard, "Do You Like Rock and Roll?" and "Say Yeah!," ALL 65,000 PUNKS SHOT THEIR FISTS AT HIM LIKE BATTERING-RAMS; "YEAH!!!" I never saw anything like it since Slade in England in '72 but then, I haven't seen Kiss in two years.
Frankly, I think Seger does deserve all the adulation he's getting and more. Not just because he paid his dues, because he is one of the last of a dying breed; unaffected, ungreasebrowed, unhoked-up true-born disciple of rock and roll. But I also feel this boy is lazy, I know he can do better.
© Lester Bangs, 1976