Too Old to Rock’n’Roll?

Seeing Jackson Browne (acoustic) at the State Theater May 29 completes my recent trifecta of Aging Rocker Concerts that started with David Crosby and Graham Nash (both age 69) at the Arlington in Santa Barbara and included Bob Seger (66) and the Silver Bullet Band at the Xcel Center. I have previously commented on the staying power of rock’n’roll in Seger’s case, and that comments holds true for all these performers. None of their work sounded dated in the least, and their performances sounded fresh and true, even though they must have sung some songs thousands and thousands of times.
On the other hand, my enjoyment of each show was less than total, not because of the performers but, perhaps, because of my aging. I loved the music, but petty annoyances at each venue distracted me and kept me from being fully engaged. At the Crosby/Nash concert, two women sat next to me and proceeded to chat with each other during the numbers. When they weren’t talking, the women to my left was on her iPhone, reading and sending messages. When I asked her to please be quiet, she and her friend got huffy, and suggested I stay home and listen to a CD instead of coming to a rock concert, where apparently their behavior was to be expected.
At the Seger show, I had a ticket on the main floor, which meant I was close to the action, but also meant I had a terrible sightline to the stage. When the audience stood, as it did most of the show, the short woman in front of me had no view of the proceedings at all. For Jackson Browne (62), I could see perfectly well, but the man in the adjoining seat was a beefy 300-pounder, whose arm rested fully in my space, and whose time-keeping thigh reverberated through my leg. At intermission I changed seats so I could be next to his wife, a mere 200-pounder, but he changed seats and was next to me again. Moreover, he had this piercing voice that yelled out a request before each number.
Jackson Browne’s set itself was all I could ask for, with favorites from almost every album. The depth of his repertoire was typified when he came out for his encore: “I could do The Load-Out, For A Dancer, or Late for the Sky,” he offered, before settling on the first. Nevertheless, I will say that either his voice was horribly overamped, or it just isn’t sweet anymore. He has always been a greater songwriter than singer, but here it was slightly painful. I eventually discovered that if I covered my ears, the songs came through cleaner.
Of course, the rest of the audience was delirious throughout, which leaves me to wonder if the fault is not mine. Should I, rather, stay home and listen to the stereo.
As a postscript, I should probably add the Bruce Cockburn concert I attended two weeks at the Cedar Cultural Center in the West Bank area of the U. Arriving 15 minutes early, I picked up a general admission ticket for $20. The first problem was that Cockburn (age 65) had decided to start at 8, instead of 7:30, which gave me 45 minutes to wait around – not my strength. The “Cedar” is a small hall, so every seat is fine for looking and listening. The problem is they are not so good for sitting. They use folding chairs, and for a sold-out show, I was crammed among the people next to and in front of me. Maybe I’m spoiled by the luxury you get in most movie theaters these days. Or maybe I’m just getting old.

Bob Seger at Xcel

     The message I took from the concert in St. Paul by 66-year-old Bob Seger is that rock’n’roll is here to stay. Although some songs he sang were 40 years old, this was not an oldies concert. The Silver Bullet Band played the songs as written, with no need for a musical update, and they sounded just as fresh, just as relevant as when they were new. When an orchestra plays a Beethoven symphony, you don’t like it because it’s an oldie-but-goodie.  It speaks to you today. The same is true for Seger’s music. I guess that’s why they call it ‘classic rock.’ I feel it will still have the same power to move people 40 years from now.
(This raises the question whether the hits of today will have the same staying power. Am I attached to Seger’s music because I was more impressionable when it first came out? It’s certainly true that there was a preponderance of 60-year-olds in the crowd. One answer is that music was more unified, and unifying, in the 1970s. There wasn’t the division on the airwaves among pop, AOR, soft rock, alternative, not to mention 50-some choices on Sirius. Songs like “Night Moves” and “We’ve Got Tonight” were anthemic in the way few releases can be today.)
As for the concert itself, it had sincerity and integrity. The bass player, acting like the music director, has been a Silver Bullet since 1969. The saxophonist, who looked like a refugee from the Sopranos, goes back to 1971, as does the lead guitarist, who hasn’t cut his hair since then and reminded me of Riff-Raff on steroids. With three backup vocalists and a four-man horn section, there were a total of 15 on stage. Seger himself was white-haired, heavyset and bespectacled, wore a black headband and a series of Harley-Davidson T-shirts, and looked a little goofy with his gap-toothed grin. His moves consisted of pumping his right arm, which you felt was quite age-appropriate. He didn’t burden us with new material, but his selections tended toward second-tier cuts off his best albums: the songs were recognizable but not the show-stoppers I was hoping for. Horizontal Bop and Katmandhu are not my favorite Seger.
In all, the energy was there, the crowd was enthusiastic and vocal, there was always someone to look at onstage, and the music made you stand and dance. It was straight-on rock’n’roll, Michigan-style, and we felt honored.