Bob Seger’s KC 1980 Concert, Jack Daniels, & My Mom’s Knee

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My wife signed us up at a gym a few years ago. I was perfectly content to continue working out in our basement, all by myself. Such is my reclusive nature these days. Admittedly it’s been a great experience for my wife, she’s met people and made friends. For me, not so much. I keep running into people from all stages of my sketchy past: grade school, high school, college, even my current job. Talk about a motivation killer. I actually forced myself to go out there yesterday and I found myself staring vacantly at a TV screen blaring some young chick’s video. My wife startled me back to reality with the curt question, “What are you staring off into space for, you need to use that machine or move…” I hadn’t really been focused on the video, I had just seen someone I think I dated in high school. It ended badly (my fault). I mumbled a reply to my darling wife, “I’m just watching this Taylor Swift video…” She crinkled up her nose, “Honey, that’s not Taylor Swift, that’s Beyonce.” I thought everything was Taylor Swift these days… Oh, well.

Seeing someone at the gym I knew when I was in high school had me thinking. Music just seemed more dangerous back then. Punk had come and gone, new wave was big. Concerts were major events. They involved planning and cunning. You had to come up with the cash for the tickets, gas money, and most importantly booze. I couldn’t help but let my mind wander back to October 23rd, 1980 and the Bob Seger and the Silver Bullet Band show I saw that night. Seger was touring in support of his seminal album, ‘Against the Wind’ and my buddy Brewster (name changed to protect the guilty) and I were stoked to see him. Unlike the Springsteen concert later the next year, Brewster actually called me on this one. It was my first Seder show.

About a week before the show, we discovered a liquor store with an elderly cashier. He wouldn’t ask you for your I.D. he’d do this weird stare-you-in-the-eye thing. I was tall as a kid. I went to bed one night at 5 feet and seemingly woke up the next day over 6 feet tall, that’s how quick my growth spurt was. So I always drew the short straw and had to be the guy who went into the liquor store. My practically terminal acne couldn’t have helped… I had twice defeated the “stare-down” test. I believe I could now beat a lie detector because of this cooky old cashier. There was always more pressure to make the buy when it was for a concert.

The night of the show, I pulled out the flask sized bottle of Jack Daniels we’d purchased the previous weekend and stuffed it into the front of my pants. I pulled out the t-shirt and flannel shirt I had on and covered the bottle. I just had to clear about 15 minutes in the living room with my mother, my dad was out of town, and it’d be off to Kemper Arena to see Bob Seger. Fuck yeah! There was just something about Jack Daniels and rock and roll. I had seen the iconic pics of Jimmy Page swilling the stuff backstage at a Zeppelin show. There was a photo of Mick and Keith huddled around a bottle of Jack Daniels while recording ‘Exile On Mainstreet’. Oh yes, I was carrying the rock and roll flame. Even if I was carrying it hidden in my crotch. The top of the bottle stuck out where my belly button was but I just pulled out my shirt a little more and folded my arms, like I was hiding an unwanted hard-on in math class (we’ve all been there).

I sauntered down to the living room like Paul Newman in “The Sting”. I was a gangster. I was one with Mick & Keith. The TV was on in the living room and my mother, always an anxious woman, was bounding around the house. She was cooking dinner for my brother and racing into the living room to see the show. I wasn’t really focused on her, she was more of a blur around the house. Suddenly, she was standing beside me, in front of the TV. There was a woman in tights and gym clothes moving around the screen to some awful music. I thought she was having a televised seizure. My mother exclaimed, “Oh, Jazzercise, I love this…” I couldn’t help but mutter, “Ma, you wanna be careful here…” But before I knew what was happening my mother was doing a jerky imitation of what was happening on the screen. My mother had gone from cooking dinner and pestering me to exercising with little to no warm up. There was no way this was going to end well… I just kept thinking, at least she’s distracted. That’s when I heard the loud “pop” noise followed by a blood curdling scream from my sainted mother. Yep, she’d blown her ACL. She crumpled to the ground like a rag doll. I was going to bend over to help her up, but I had a bottle of Jack Daniels crammed down my pants.

She was frantic and I wasn’t much better. I knew I had to do something or I was going to miss the concert. This was Bob Fucking Seger, ma. My buddies were supposed to pick me up any minute. I didn’t want to leave my mom laying on the floor, but she was sort of forcing my hand. I quickly called the neighbor lady, my mom’s best friend. She could hear my mother caterwauling in the background and she suggested I call an ambulance. Jesus, how was I gonna pull this off? No one told me that when you call for an ambulance, the cops come. That information might have altered my strategy. Within minutes I had two cop cars in front of the house and a cop in my living room, standing over my mother. I stood, with my arms folded in front of the Jack, next to the cop, over my prostrate mother. “So, your mom says you’re gonna see Seger tonight?” I wanted danger, here it was…”Well, yeah Officer Friendly, I’m kind of a music nut…” He was eyeballing me like I was a “person of interest”. We continued to make small talk until my little brother finally emerged from upstairs to see what all the flashing lights were about. I was soaked in sweat. I had visions of the cop realizing I had whiskey in my pants, (and on my breath, I’ll admit I’d sampled the fire water) and going berserk with his night stick, beating me about the head and shoulders until I was laying next to my mother on the ground. With my brother now engaged with “the heat” I slowly moved outdoors to the front porch. The ambulance had finally arrived and was in the driveway. I waved meekly, while holding the Jack with my other hand. I looked like I had an upset stomach…

It was at that moment that Brewster’s car pulled up. I lived on a cul-de-sac. He was literally on top the two cop cars before he knew what was happening. I could see the look on his face – half questioning, half utter terror. If I’d lived on a through street he’d probably have kept driving. Although since I was holding the whiskey, I had some leverage. I immediately bounded off the front porch. I pointed to the front door for the EMTs and said, “She’s in there, I have to go now…” With my head bowed and my hands on my stomach I raced for the car and practically dove into the front seat. Brewster slowly turned the car around and then raced out of my neighborhood.

I felt awful for leaving my mother, but man what a concert that was. Buzzed on adrenaline and Tennessee sipping whiskey I was blown away by Seger. He opened with “Nine Tonight” and I was in rock and roll heaven. By the time he played the guitar solo in “Her Strut”, mid-concert, we’d abandoned our lower balcony seats and headed for the floor. We slipped past security and made it up to the stage in time for “Let It Rock” the monster encore. Drew Abbott, a true unsung hero guitarist in rock music, stood in front of me and destroyed his guitar solo. When the show was over, Brewster and I just stood there passing the Jack, as people filed out and the roadies took the stage. I had suddenly remembered my poor, frail mother, lying on the floor, when suddenly to my right a blonde woman had pulled up her shirt to reveal her two lovely breasts to the roadies in an attempt to get back stage. They were the first boobs I’d ever seen at a concert. I thought I’d died and ascended to Nirvana. All thoughts of familial loyalty fluttered from my adolescent mind.

Now that’s danger…

Rock and Roll and Jack Daniels… They belong together. Do you have a concert story to share? Comment and I’ll post it.

Be careful out there folks… Beware of any exercising mothers… Stretch out ladies…. and as always, Cheers!

Springsteen’s Winter-Storm Jonas Gift: Thank You Bruce

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¬†When Winter Storm Jonas rolled through the Northeast last weekend, wreaking havoc, one of the by-products was the cancellation of Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band’s concert at Madison Square Garden Sunday, January 24th. As a free gift to make up for the cancellation Bruce released his previous show ‘Chicago January 19th’ as a free MP3 download for a two day period. Naturally I jumped on that gift, and let me say, Thank you Bruce. I’ve already written about Springsteen’s archival downloads in another blog post, but I’m not sure if I mentioned he’s now releasing every show as a live download through his website like Pearl Jam has been doing for 15 years or so. I downloaded his Capetown, South Africa show from his last tour. He finally found a way to beat the bootleggers. Springsteen and the E Street Band are out on the road to support last year’s box set ‘The Ties That Bind’ which celebrates the anniversary of Bruce’s epic double album, ‘The River’. I would be writing about ‘The Ties That Bind’ but there was a mix up at Christmas and despite the box set being at the top of my Christmas list, here I sit in January with no present. Apparently it’s “on it’s way”. Sigh, Christmas…

As part of this tour Bruce is performing ‘The River’ in it’s entirety, from start to finish. Ah, the album playback-centric concert. It can be dicey. Playing an album as it was released can often produce mixed results. I saw Motley Crue do ‘Dr Feelgood’ a few years back and left disappointed. I saw the Cult do ‘Love’ and ‘Electric’ and those shows were amazing. Of course the Cult is a hard rock band (and could really be defined across genre’s) so there is a cohesion on those records that lend themselves to a concert treatment. Of course, for the ‘Electric’ show I was drinking vodka with the Rock Chick and my buddy Stormin’ in Denver and I actually got a VIP package and met the band so that may have influenced my feelings about that show.

‘The River’ was my first Springsteen album purchase. I grew up in the suburbs of Kansas City, in Kansas so Springsteen was a bit foreign to me. He didn’t get a ton of airplay out here. I had only recently switched my radio from Royals’ games to KY/102 the lone rock station in town. I’d heard some Bruce but wasn’t that familiar with him. “Hungry Heart” was literally the first “hit” he had out here. I can still remember standing in the record store, the smell of incense in the background clutching the double vinyl album wondering if it was worth the investment. A double album in those days could be close to $15 which was a fortune on a lawn mower/bus boy wage. In those days, if I liked the first single on an album I’d wait until I heard a second then a third song. If I liked all three it was deemed “purchase-worthy”. What can I say, cash was in short supply when you spent half of it on beer and gas. I can say, all these years later, thankfully I made the buy.

I remember the jolt I got when the needle found the groove and “The Ties That Bind,” the opening track, jumped out of the speakers. It was like a jolt of amphetamine. I realized I’d made a very sound investment. Springsteen had been kept out of the studio for 4 years after ‘Born to Run’ and then had been very selective on what he put out on ‘Darkness On the Edge of Town’ so he had a back log of great songs that he’d been playing live (and being bootlegged) for some time. He had originally submitted a single album but wisely pulled it back in favor of this sprawling, masterpiece. Over the course of 20 songs the Bruce and the E Streeters do everything – rockers, rockabilly, ballads, politics, love, breakups, a wreck on the highway, literally everything. Every double album that comes along gets compared to ‘The White Album’ but this one may actually earn that description. The title track to ‘The River’ is one of Springsteen’s finest achievements as a songwriter: he captures the political ramifications of an economic downturn in the most personal way, and it’s much more effective for it.

It appears on this tour Bruce is opening with a song from ‘The Ties That Bind’ box, “Meet Me In the City Tonight”. How did this song not see proper release long ago? I can only hope that some day I’ll actually get my Xmas gift and hear the studio version (Damn you Santa). “Meet Me In the City” is an awesome opener. It just shows the depth and quality of the material Bruce was writing at that time. From there the E Street Band takes you through ‘The River’ in it’s entirety. It’s an amazing start to this concert (and I do mean “start” the show is 3 1/2 hours long). ‘The River’, with the way the album was paced, is a great album to play in concert. It’s music and moods are varied enough to withstand a concert treatment. Bruce tells a nice story before “Independence Day” which was a song I listened to constantly in my “angry-at-my-father” stage of life (does everybody go through that?). “Drive All Night” may be my favorite Springsteen love song. “Baby, I’d drive all night, just to buy you some shoes” is the line that always gets me and the way my wife buys shoes ended up being somewhat prophetic for me.

After they complete ‘The River’ album playback, it’s party time. I’ve looked at the set lists from other shows and they vary wildly. On the ‘Chicago’ show he plays several songs from ‘Born to Run’ and ‘Born In the USA’ (including “Cover Me”, “Dancing in the Dark” and “No Surrender” where Bruce blows the intro twice). He also plays “Human Touch” a song I’ve never heard live and was surprised to hear. Bruce even does a nice acoustic/violin version of “Take It Easy” as a tribute to Glenn Frey which is understated and powerful (although I would have loved one of Bruce’s patented pre-song stories about, say, Warren Zevon and Frey and he hanging out, but those records are probably sealed). After a towering run through “Rosalita” the party comes to an end with the old R&B tune, “Shout”. I’ve heard Springsteen, Billy Joel, and Tom Petty all do this song, and frankly no one will ever top Otis Day and at the Knights from the movie “Animal House” but the E Street Band do a great version.

The vocals on this live show are right up front. The Capetown show I purchased, the vocals were down in the mix, which was disappointing. Not so on this album, the sound is terrific. Since Clarence Clemons passed away Bruce has augmented the band with an entire horn section. For ‘The River’ Tour he’s paired it down to only Jake Clemons, The Big Man’s nephew. I must say, I was impressed with Jake’s playing. No one will ever play with the distinct power of Clarence, but his nephew does him proud. I like this stripped down version of the horn section. I am also very happy to see Bruce’s wife Patti back on rhythm guitar and vocals, she’s been missing the last couple of tours. Little Steven, who co-produced ‘The River’ is up front and appears to have replaced Clarence as Bruce’s main on-stage foil. I think we all love Little Steve, so this is good news. The sound of this recording is really great.

I don’t think ‘Chicago January 19th’ is still being offered for free, but it’s certainly worth the purchase price. My advice is to look at the set lists for his different shows, pay particular attention to the songs after song 21 where ‘The River’ concludes and pick the set of tunes you like. This is an epic tour and it appears Bruce is working on yet another “solo” project so it may be a while before you hear the whole band perform together again. Fans of “Live Music” recordings, look no further.

Enjoy and as always, Cheers!