Seger Live!
A special section of The Seger File.
Updated January 7, 2007
Written and edited by Scott Sparling

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A Cleveland Flashback

It's taken me three weeks to write up my weekend in Cleveland. All the standard excuses apply. Don't worry, though -- my memory of the trip is as sharp as a photo.

The band was sharp. The photo isn't.

It's Brewer. Brewer, Brewer, Brewer, Brewer. I'm pretty sure the drummer's name is Brewer.

Bear in mind that I left Portland at 4 a.m. and I've spent all day on planes and I'm still more or less on the losing end of this month-long grudge match with whatever iron-fisted bug is trying to take over my body. The antibiotics, bless 'em, are not working. And Ears Two, the one person who could keep me on the straight and narrow and prevent me from embarrassing myself, is nowhere around.

In other words, I'm not at my best. But I'm pretty sure the drummer's name is Brewer. He's standing right in front of me, at the Caribou Coffee stand outside the Ritz-Carlton. I'm not hanging here in hopes of seeing the band, though. I'm hanging here because I'm lost.

"You must be Don Farner," I say, which is not what I meant to say.

And so my Cleveland trip begins.

And what a fantastic trip it was. The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. A weekend with Ears Two. Seger at the Q, with the band in super form. And a couple of historic band interviews, the first of which is not getting off to a great start.

Brewer replies that he is not Don Farner, which pretty much ends my first conversation with him. Hey, he's the drummer. I got his name half right. Shouldn't I get a medal just for that?

Also, I can say anything I want about Brewer now, because he told me later that he doesn't read the Seger File.

(And all this time, I'd been restraining myself from posting Homer Simpson's joke about Grand Funk: "What?? You kids don't know Grand Funk? The wild shirtless lyrics of Mark Farner? The bong-rattling bass of Mel Schacher? The competent drum work of Don Brewer?" And yet, a little Googling reveals that Brewer is proud of being included in Homer's little dig. I guess it doesn't matter what you say, as long as you get the name right.)

A number of amazing things happened in Cleveland. I started to like "We've Got Tonight," which I have always resisted. I ran into a fan named Shellie, who has seen more Seger concerts on this tour than anyone I know. I saw a photo of mine at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. I felt "Travelin' Man/Beautiful Loser" hit with a power I can barely understand.

But first, a word on Detroit and Cleveland, specifically the difference between them. My take is, once you're inside the arena, there isn't any.

If you're from Detroit, you probably think Detroit's special. And it is -- until the lights go down. At that point, you're in a big room with 18,000 screaming Seger fanatics who know every word. Most of us feel a special one-to-one connection to Bob (How does he DO that?). One of the biggest Seger fans I know of lives in Iowa. Would his connection to the music be any stronger if he lived in Grosse Pointe? Of course not.

Music is personal that way. It doesn't care where you live. Of course, there's no question that the pre- and post-concert buzz is enormously more potent in Detroit. But when the music's playing? The Cleveland show was the last gig before Detroit and the band was in red hot form. At that level, it's all the same. Disagree with me if you must.

So anyway, Brewer and whoever he was talking with -- Jim "Moose" Brown, I think -- look at me like I've just flown in from the sticks, which is sort of true, and I walk away wondering why he won't admit to being Don Farner. The answer to that occurs to me too late.

So I make the best of it. I have myself a beer at the Hard Rock Café and slap my head about 1,600 times. I actually think it's an improvement. My forehead has more character now. Soon enough it's dark and I still haven't found my hotel, so I hit the sidewalk. It's cold and empty, and there's only one other guy on the sidewalk. Who happens to be Don Brewer.

What the heck, is he following me, or what?? I'm sure that's what he's thinking too, so I give him a pretty wide berth and say hello. He's actually very polite and friendly, though it's hard to be too friendly with a 20-knot wind coming in off Lake Erie.

I apologize for getting his name wrong. He still seems a bit miffed, but once we get that cleared up, I introduce myself. He says he's heard of the Seger File, but apparently he's not a big Internet guy.

I ask him if he's seen Seger's recent quote, the one where he says he might not want to tour without Brewer. (Brewer won't be available after March because of commitments to Grand Funk. Seger was quoted as saying: "I don't know if I'd want to do it without Don 'cause he's such a great wall to lean on.")

Brewer says he hadn't heard this. "It's a great compliment," he says. "It's a very nice compliment." But he also didn't want the tour to be dependent on him. "Please don't put it on me," he said very graciously.

With that he ducked into the Hyde Park Steakhouse, where presumably the rest of the band was eating. So I never got to ask him whether he prefers a paradiddle or straight sticking on an ascending two-tom fill of four sixteenth-notes each. If only I'd gotten his name right the first time, maybe I would have found out.

On Saturday afternoon, Ears 2 and I endured another brisk wind coming off the Lake, finding our way on foot to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. It's an amazing place. I particularly liked Jim Morrison's cub scout shirt, but nothing can really match seeing John Lennon's Sgt. Pepper jacket right there in front of you.

In fact for a museum about music, there were a lot of displays about clothes. There were multiple Britney Spears outfits, which actually looked better without the talentless body inside. But where was Seger's black t-shirt, blue jeans and sweatband? All they had were some boots that he wore on the cover of Greatest Hits 1.

The Seger display is the first thing you see as the escalator takes you to the third floor. And the first thing you see is wrong. "Bob Seger was born on May 6, 1945 in Ann Arbor, Michigan," it says. It's a common mistake (he was born in Detroit) but at least it gave me a chance to feel superior.

(Not that I haven't confused things a bit myself over the years by writing that Seger was born in Dearborn in Henry Ford Hospital. That would be impossible. Seger fan David Silver pointed out recently that Henry Ford Hospital is in Detroit -- what I meant to write is that the family lived Dearborn.)

Inside the case are some cool Seger artifacts. An ancient contract. The aforementioned boots. A jacket that I never noticed him wearing. A guitar, I think, although to be honest, I saw so many guitars that day they blurred together. I don't play guitar and as Ears 2 commented, unless it's been smashed or set aflame, a guitar is a guitar.

But I did like the handwritten lyrics to "Like A Rock." The extra verse, which I reported on in the Vault, here, was included. But there were more lyrics as well.

Toward the end of the song, there were these lines: "And I think of all the roads I've known, and all the faces come and gone, and the too many nights I've spent alone." Then he tried a shorter version of it: "And I think of friends who've come and gone, and the many nights I've spent alone."

Off to the side of the page, you can see him trying to work out the verse which eventually came out like this: "And sometimes late at night / when I'm bathed in the firelight / the moon comes callin' ghostly white / and I recall." In the handwritten version, as Ears 2 pointed out, you could see Seger looking for possible rhymes: "And I watch the moon rise pale and white, insight, takes flight." The line ends "I look back" instead of "And I recall."

I found that glimpse inside his writing process to be fascinating. Most people were more interested in the guitar, I think.

But the best thing about the Seger display is that I met Shellie Altman there. Shellie is a tremendous Seger fan who first emailed me in 1997. Our meeting was not quite an accident. I had actually suggested meeting by the Seger display in an email. But we never settled on it for sure, and I thought it was off. As I started to walk away, Shellie saw my Segerfile t-shirt and introduced herself.

All you really need to know about Shellie is that she saw 13 of the first 21 shows, including all four in Detroit. She drove from show to show alone or with her dog, got great seats most places, and was a frequent contributor to the Fans on Tour page.

She promises to write up the whole experience, which I would love to post. At this point though, you probably ought to go read her first email to the Seger File, which she wrote under the name (It's called Backstage with a Bad Pass -- I liked it so much, I've kept a link to it on the Update page for years.) And having finally met her, I can vouch that there is nothing evil or beechlike about her.

Something else that blew my mind was the Seger jukebox. It's really a touch-screen computer terminal that lets you hear every song recorded by every artist who has been inducted. Which means you can hear every officially released Seger song ever. (Including things like "Paint them a Picture Jane" and other cuts off Noah, that Seger had basically nothing to do with.)

I was in the mood for "2 + 2 = ?" and it was nothing short of stunning to stand there with headphones on and hear the power of that song, almost as if for the first time. It's a museum about music, after all, and nothing takes the place of actually hearing it.

The "jukebox" came with its share of errors. "Railroad Days" was listed as "Railroad Says." And two songs from Brand New Morning became a single track called "Sometimes You Know How You Are." When I played "Railroad Days," it was preceded by the sound of the needle going through the groove -- so the tracks were clearly digitized off an LP, rather than from a master.

(Well, duh. Why would anyone imagine that Punch Enterprises or Capitol would still have the masters to Brand New Morning? I mean, c'mon on. I assume they've lost the masters to Face the Promise by now. It's been four months, for crying out loud. Who can keep track of things that long? And all that Hi-Def video they shot at the Palace two weeks ago? If the DVD's not out in a month, forget it.)

I'm kidding, of course, but in truth I got a huge kick out of margin note on one of Seger's early contracts. Written in a hand that I assume belongs to Punch, it said: "File downstairs behind the furnace." I don't know about your house, but the stuff I keep behind my furnace is not worth keeping.

The other kick was seeing my photo of Seger in one of their videos, on a screen that must have been 20 feet high. It was the unauthorized photo, the one they never bothered to purchase. It's been turning up in a lot of places lately. I speak here as someone who has "borrowed" a hundred zillion photos just to keep this website going.

Another amazing item: The people who run the Hall of Fame were so impressed with Ears 2 and me that they asked to take our photo! I guess they'd heard of us. Ears 2 has written about music, and at least one of his pieces was referenced in a Springsteen book that's sold in the gift shop. And now they're showing my photo in their film. At any rate, as soon we bought our tickets, they stood us against the wall and took our photo.

Later that same photo was being sold in the gift shop for $20. The guy next to me even bought a copy. Of course, the guy next to me was Ears 2. It's almost as good (and more expensive, as I recall) as the shot of Ears 2 and me on the Cyclone at Cedar Point.

Yeah, yeah, yeah, blah, blah, blah…what about the concert?? What about Seger??

The concert was, at times, absolutely amazing. Sitting farther back, I saw the stage as a whole and noticed a lot of things I had missed before. Like the way Seger and Reed take opposite ends of the stage for "Turn the Page" -- and the hip handshake they give each other at the end. It was moving.

With the exception of thirty or forty people sitting right behind me, the crowd was great. In Grand Rapids, they sung along for "Turn the Page" and several others. In Cleveland, they seemed to be singing along for every song.

And then there was "We've Got Tonight." Everyone loves it, I don't. So it goes. But just before I started to space out, I looked down from my perch in Row 1, Level 1. Right in front of us, on the floor, three couples were slow dancing. And the more I watched them, the more I liked the song. It was romantic, they were happy, maybe even in love. And in an odd way, it opened me up a little to what I'd been missing in the song.

Something must be wrong with Ears 2. He didn't like "Old Time Rock & Roll."

"The crowd loved it. I cringed," he writes. "The problem with singing lines like "Say I'm old-fashioned, say I'm over the hill" is that they can sound a little self-incriminating 25 or 30 years later."

On the other hand, E2 loved "Wait for Me." And I didn't hear it. I was thinking about something else. What the hell is wrong with me? I flew half way across the continent just to hear Seger, and then I got distracted by ice cubes hitting the back of my head. Anyway, I'm sure it was great.

As was "Wreck this Heart." Of "Mainstreet," E2 writes, "the visual of Seger wailing on one side of the stage and Alto wailing on the other was superb."

"No Matter Who You Are," was terrific, and the lighting effect is the best of the night -- the lights seem to create a textured, red theatre curtain hung in the sky. The gospel feel of the song when the backup singers come in is just stunning.

It was at that point, or maybe even the next day, that I told E2 about my interview with Barb Payton, one of the three backup singers. I met her a few minutes after my encounter with Don Brewer, so I was naturally nervous about getting her name right.

It cannot be said, however, that I was in any way stalking or following her. I was actually in the elevator first when she joined me. This was on the sixth floor of the Ritz Carlton, where I had been perusing the wine menu. I quickly concluded that I would need a loan from the Quicken Loans Arena just to have a glass of house red. I was on my way out; the elevator doors were about to shut when Barb stepped in.

I chose my first question to her carefully. "Which floor?" I asked.

Unfortunately, the naivete of my query was quickly exposed. When you're in the elevator on Six in the Ritz Carlton in Cleveland and going down, you have to go to One. There's no other choice: the elevator doesn't stop anywhere in between.

"I guess it'll have to be One," Barb said.

"Can't go too far wrong with One," I agreed.

So immediately we had something in common: our faith in the correct and proper choice that we had made, together. This put us on the same wavelength emotionally. It also concluded my interview with her, as the door opened, and she left.

So, yeah, watching her across a hundred yards of floor seats, up on there on the risers was a kick. She sounded great.

"Turn the Page." Writes E2: "There wasn't anyone in the house who wasn't singing along with every word. Absolutely the high point of the night. I couldn't stop smiling." My thoughts exactly. Although for me, the next few minutes turned out to be an even higher high point.

"Has it really been 31 years since Live Bullet?" Seger asked.

Then "Traveling Man / Beautiful Loser" started and it was crazy. The guy next to me went absolutely nuts. Wait -- that was me. I was the guy next to me, having an out of body experience.

And the song didn't make me happy. Not in the normal Seger "I couldn't stop smiling" way. It more made me want to cry. The song was happy and sad at the same time, in a way that it couldn't have been 31 years ago, when it could only ring the chords of freedom and adventure. Those are powerful chords, true. But this time it was also about the years that have gone by, and how you try to hold on to them, but you can't. It was about the "friends come and gone, and the nights alone," and that part of it made me feel all choked up, even while Brewer's pounding drum work and the rest of the band was opening up a physical kind of joy that I could feel blasting against my chest.

So there's another revelation: I was absolutely transported by the instrumental break. I didn't even know where Seger was. He might have been backstage having a smoke for all I knew. I had my eyes closed and I didn't open them until the first line of "Beautiful Loser."

It's a line that shines with a kind of reverse glow after all these years. "I want to dream like a young man / with the wisdom of an old man." Now that I am, well, not an old man, but no longer young, the line is still full of yearning, but it's yearning that has doubled back on itself. It's a much better line, for example, than Townshend's celebrated "I hope I die before I get old," which once held rebellion and now holds only irony. Seger's line doesn't need irony, because it still has truth. It's a line that could tell you what life was like when you were 20. And when you're 50. Like Zevon's midnight train, it's a river that runs both ways.

"You just can't have it all." For me that was the moment. That line. The glass of wine and the easy conversation in Little Italy. Ramblin' Gamblin Man. Spending time with E2 and his wife. Those are the memories.

Since I'm getting all choked up, let's go to E2's report: "Intermission," he writes. "At right around eight minutes, this was the longest number of the night and probably the least inspired." I love it. Do you see why I've hung out with E2 for more than 30 years?

"Simplicity." E2 liked it and so did I, but I still think the arena rumble robs it of its power. The groove needs sharp edges, and even with the horns it didn't come through for me.

"Ramblin' Gamblin' Man" was "so good that you have to stand even if nobody's in front of you." (E2) "Real Mean Bottle," "Sunspot Baby," "Katmandu"…by this point Seger is working the crowd into a fever pitch. And then the encores, of course, and then "Rock and Roll Never Forgets," with fists in the air.

Watching the stage from fairly far back, it was like Seger had his hand on the throttle of a steam engine. With a pull, the Silver Bullet Band would erupt, or turn, or throttle down, or roar, and Seger controlled it all with that fist of his, and the steam engine swept over all of us. "What a joy it was to have this relentlessly energetic song leave the final impression of the night!" E2.

Sure, we both would have done a few things differently. I would have loved to hear "Red Eye to Memphis." Had it been an album cut, instead of an iTunes extra, I'll bet it would have kicked "Simplicity" off the set list. E2 would have skipped "Betty Lou" and "Horizontal Bop," and so would I. Heard 'em enough. We both felt "Face the Promise" was the weakest song of the night (though I'd call it the weakest version of potentially the best song. Somehow it just doesn't cut through.)

I would love to hear Seger play in a setting where he could do the quieter, more emotional songs like "Won't Stop." Imagine that song in a 3,000-seat theater instead of an arena. But I can see how it wouldn't go over at the "Q."

E2 would kill, or at least fire, the light guy. "Enough with shining lights in the eyes of the audience," he writes. "Is the idea to blind us so we'll focus on the audio experience -- in which case I'd really rather stay home and listen to the songs on my iPod?"

I'll let the light guy live. But the guy who threw ice cubes at me is permanently banned. From, I don't know…everything.

You, Mr. Ice Cube Thrower, are the guy Seger wrote about in UMC: "If there's war or famine / I promise I'll examine / the details if they're on TV." I have a news flash for you, ice guy. You're not watching TV. You're at a rock concert.

You might want to sit there with your soft drink and your pretzels and let the entertainment cover you like a blanket. But this ain't your living room and when Seger takes the stage, I'm taking to my feet, because that's what rock and roll is all about. I don't even know why they put chairs in these places. Who wants to sit and listen to music?

The light, it burns, it burns...

On the upside, there was John and his wife Patti, who read the site and who came down to our seats to say hello, and there was Bryun, a Seger fan from Canton who emailed me years ago and who caught up with me near the merch stand, with his friend Terrii. One of best things about doing this site is meeting so many great Seger fans. There was even a fan who saw my Seger File t-shirt, shook my hand and said, "You must be Kevin!"

I'm not, of course. (Kevin runs, another great Seger site). So what did I do? I very politely explained that I was Scott, not Kevin, and we had a great conversation. See, when somebody doesn't quite get your name right, that's how it's handled. Take a note.

"I do a little bit of stretching to get the muscles limber," Brewer said, explaining his pre-show routine. "I take an Advil for pre-inflammatory help. I take a four-to-five mile walk every day, then I go to the gym in the evening. I work on keeping my body fit and I try to stay in shape. Drumming is physical, no doubt about it."

He went on to talk about playing with Seger versus Grand Funk.

"I did backup vocals with Bob and I played drums on two tours. It was a great learning experience for me. He has a huge number of hits and a band he brings in, heavy studio guys, plus his own guys that he's had with him for years. It was just a whole different thing for me, because when Grand Funk would work on material, you could put yourself completely into it.

"Now here I am in a situation where I've got to imitate what somebody else had done. So I was learning from two different drummers he had prior, plus studio drummers he had. I'm learning all these ways to play things, whole different kind of grooves -- not Grand Funk grooves, but Bob Seger grooves. It was a whole different thing. I've always loved his music and loved doing it. I appreciated that he had that Detroit thing, it's got the R&B rock thing."

Of course, Brewer didn't say any of this stuff to me. He said it in an interview in Classic Drummer. "As a matter of fact," he concludes, "I got a call that Seger's thinking about going on the road again."

It's now been three weeks since the Cleveland concert, and I haven't listened to "Face the Promise" once. After playing it every day for months, I've put it away for a while. I'm listening to John Dee Graham and Kasey Chambers and of course, The Beatles' Love. I'm letting Face the Promise just sit there. I can feel it pulsing. I can hear it whispering to me. I can tell it wants out. I figure the longer I keep it off the CD deck, the harder it's gonna hit me when I finally turn it loose. And that's exactly what I want.

January 7, 2007

Another view of the Cleveland show is here.

The First-Leg Reviews and Set Lists have moved here.