After years as a regionally-based cult figure from Detroit, Bob Seger and his music didn't change all that dramatically, at least on the surface, when Night Moves (Capitol, 1975) launched him into the mainstream popularity he maintains to this day. He merely altered the emphasis he placed on ballads versus up-tempo material.
That he continues to fill arenas (and be compelled to add more tour stops) with aging album-rock fans, who enjoy nothing more than hearing his litany of hits performed live, is evidence to support how he's maintained his own connection to audiences even as his fanbase has increased.
Thus, it makes perfect sense to release remastered versions of his two concert albums (with one unreleased bonus cut apiece). Live Bullet, which primed the public for Seger's success and Nine Tonight, ostensibly designed to satiate his audience, now summarize the pros and cons of the man's pre and post success music. At the same time, and each in their own way, these concert pieces reaffirm how, given the demands of commercial success, Bob Seger has kept himself honest as a performer.
1976's Live Bullet, true to the blurred cover image of the mulletted native of Ann Arbor, is a fevered portrayal of a hungry outsider, not just resigned to, but proud of his status. Through his homage to Tina Turner that opens the show "Nutbush City Limits," the kind of crowd-pleasing artists usually have to reserve for the end of a showto the clutch of Chuck Berry that closes it (such as "Katmandu" and "Get Out of Denver"), Seger depicts himself as a fully satisfied but not complacent local hero in "Beautiful Loser" and "Travelin' Man."
Meantime, "UMC" is viciously ironic, as if he already knows the pitfalls of materialism. The melancholy "Turn the Page" is no more defensive than "Lookin' Back" is matter-of-fact. Seger relished not fitting in because, at this point in his career, he had everything to gain with his own brand of "heavy music" and nothing to lose (except perhaps the kitschy synthesized string parts on a few tracks, normal practice at the time).
The inclusion of the bonus track, a cover of Ann Peebles' "I Feel Like Breaking Up Somebody's Home," only adds an element of loyalty to Seger's presentation to his audience, as does his insistence on billing his band, along with himself, in the main credits. That gesture of generosity is as crucial as the stark balladry that appears here in the form of "Jody Girl" and the aforementioned "Turn the Page," archetypes of the material that would propel Seger to his peak of recognition.
Four years later, recorded at home in Detroit and in his equally loyal adopted hometown of Boston, Seger had what he longed for and then some. Now, however, the primitive strains of "Let It Rock" are far outnumbered by the more polished adult demographics of a tune such as "We've Got Tonight," while "Against The Wind" and "We've Got Tonight" sound like exactly what they are: romanticized melodramas of adult identity crises, similar to this bonus cut, "Brave Strangers."
The irony here lies in large measure in how these songs are communicated via a bar band par excellence. It's only natural The Silver Bullet Band would acquire more polish the more it toured, Seger made sure he retained the punchy sound by holding on to the core personnel rather than opt for the session men who populated the albums he is promoting here; the only prettifications consisted of female background singers and the addition of Motor City native (and former Grand Funk member) Craig Frost on keyboards.
That said, the digital remastering fails to transcend the original recording. The mature finesse of the ensemble, unlike the in-your-face character of the previous live album, remains at a distance.The sound thus becomes a perfect allegory for Seger's struggle to maintain his own identity as his career evolved. Still, when "Night Moves" wafts by and "Feel Like A Number" chugs along, the man sounds like he's rediscovering who he really is, at least for the duration of the time he's on stage: not a celebrity, but a bonafide rocker at heart, earnestly working hard to connect with the people who paid their money to see him.
Tracks and Personnel
Tracks: Nutbush City Limits; Travelin' Man; Beautiful Loser; Jody Girl; I've Been Working; Turn the Page; U.M.C. (Upper Middle Class); Bo Diddley; Ramblin' Gamblin' Man; Heavy Music; Katmandu; Lookin' Back; Get Out of Denver; Let It Rock; Bonus Track: I Feel Like Breaking up Somebody's Home.
Personnel: Bob Seger: lead vocals; electric guitar; piano; Drew Abbott: lead guitar; background vocals; Chris Campbell: bass guitar, background vocals; Alto Reed: alto saxophone; tenor saxophone, baritone saxophone, background vocals, percussion; Robyn Robbins: organ, clavinet, Mellotron, piano (11); Charlie Allen Martin: drums, background vocals, answer vocals (10), harmony vocals (4, 13).
Tracks: Nine Tonight; Trying to Live My Life Without You; You'll Accomp'ny Me; Hollywood Nights; Old Time Rock & Roll; Main Street; Against the Wind; Fire Down Below; Her Strut; Feel Like a Number; Fire Lake; Betty Lou's Gettin' Out Tonight; We've Got Tonight; Night Moves; Rock & Roll Never Forgets; Let It Rock; Bonus Track: Brave Strangers.
Personnel: Bob Seger: lead vocals; electric guitar; piano (13), lead guitar (9); Drew Abbott: electric guitar; acoustic guitar (3); Chris Campbell: electric bass guitar; Alto Reed: alto saxophone, tenor saxophone, flute (13), organ (3, 6, 10); Dave Teagarden; drums, background vocals; Craig Frost: piano, organ, clavinet; Shaun Murphy:lead background vocals, various percussion; lead harmony (6, 14); Kathy Lamb: background vocals, percussion; Colleen Beaton: background vocals, percussion; June Tilton: background vocals, percussion; Pam Moore: background vocals, percussion.