Concert review: Bob Seger rolled out a parade of sturdy hits in Gwinnett

By: Melissa Ruggieri

Published: February 1, 2015

“Georgia!” Bob Seger bellowed as he took the mic.

That was the only cue the Silver Bullet Band needed to plow into “Roll Me Away.”

Instantly, that familiar rasp coming from that familiar face with the familiar gray beard and familiar uniform of jeans and a black shirt commanded the sold-out crowd at The Arena at Gwinnett Center.

“It’s great to be back!” Seger proclaimed before wrapping his warm rasp around the second song of his two-hour set, the Otis Clay cover, “Tryin’ to Live My Life Without You.”

There was nothing fancy about Seger’s show, but that is precisely how the Michigan maestro – who turns 70 in May – has sold more than 50 million albums in a 45-year career.

His Saturday night concert offered standard video screens flanking the stage, basic-yet-effective lighting, a red curtain backdrop and members in his army of musicians on raised platforms.

What else does a musician and songwriter such as Seger need when he has a few dozen rock hits in his arsenal and a rather solid collection of new songs from his October album, “Ride Out,” to take center stage?

Seger has long been an icon of blue collar rock. And yes, sturdy fare such as “The Fire Down Below” and the snare-drum-smacking (courtesy of Grand Funk Railroad drummer Don Brewer) “Her Strut” still resonate because of their timeless simplicity.

But his songs also contain overtones of melancholy and regret, of wistfulness and deep emotion. You hear it in the new song, “All of the Roads,” a midtempo chugger that Seger dedicated to the fans. And, when taken out of overplayed car commercial purgatory and performed as the beautiful ballad that it is, “Like a Rock” remains a deeply meaningful song.

“Old Time Rock and Roll,” meanwhile, remains obscenely overplayed and overrated, but hey, fans love it and Seger, to his credit, happily pranced across the stage while performing it for the 12 billionth time and ceded the spotlight to his Motor City Horns and longtime sax player Alto Reed.

Seger has mentioned that this is possibly his last tour, and it was evident that he was absorbing every joyful moment onstage.

With his floppy snowy-gray bangs held back by a most unfashionable headband that served its purpose and a perpetual grin on his face, Seger presented himself as a gregarious host, quick to point the mic at the crowd for a sing-along or tell a story.

He shared that “We’ve Got Tonight,” on which he played piano, is his mother’s favorite song, and reminisced briefly about his history in Atlanta, reminding fans of the early days playing Richards club and the Electric Ballroom.

That story served as the prelude to the opening bleat of saxophone that is the signature of the moody, thoughtful “Turn the Page,” a song that Seger said always reminded him of Lynyrd Skynyrd.

While he ended the main set with the adrenaline shot of the new “Detroit Made,” a John Hiatt tune that sounds as vital as anything Seger has ever recorded, the two encores played like back-to-back Double Shot Tuesdays on any random classic rock station.

While bathed in a purple hue, Seger strummed an acoustic guitar while bouncy piano from Jim “Moose” Brown propped up “Against the Wind,” which was paired with a locomotive run through of “Hollywood Nights.”

A record-perfect delivery, with just a hint of gruffness, came with “Night Moves.” But “Rock and Roll Never Forgets” ended the night on an apt note.

As Seger sang the tune’s final refrain standing on a platform with his trio of female backup singers, then waved numerous times as he exited the stage, he seemed like a guy content with his legacy.

Opening the show, on their final night of touring with Seger, the J. Geils Band left it all on the stage.

From the first blast of harmonica and guitar for the instrumental “Sno-Cone” through energetic frontman Peter Wolf hopping into the crowd during “Must of Got Lost,” the six-piece outfit showcased their chops as one of rock’s most exemplary bar-bands-turned-stars.

Wolf zipped onstage as the band plowed through “Hard Drivin’ Man,” doing a sideways skitter akin to Steven Tyler’s moves, and never allowed his energy to flag.

Whether unleashing a fast-talking spiel about what rock ‘n’ roll is about or tossing roses into the crowd during “Love Stinks,” the slight 68-year-old with the mop of Howard Stern hair amped up the appreciative crowd with his antics.

Of course, “Centerfold,” the band’s 1982 smash and MTV staple (thanks to its then-risqué, now laughably tame video) and “Love Stinks” were the most recognizable songs to many in the audience. But at heart, the J. Geils Band always was a stinging blues-rock crew, a history well-remembered as Wolf danced in circles during “Detroit Breakdown” as guitars screamed on both sides of him.