When you play a show, particularly a big show like last night with Bob Seger, everything moves fast. It’s a heightened reality with a thousand mini-events removed from ordinary life—all part of why I love it and why my band members love it. What stays with you is the feeling the music gives you, how well you connected with the faces in the crowd, the people you see and make your music with, and maybe a couple other flashes of things.
But last night in Toledo, my band & I will surely recall one singular thing when we think about this gig months from now. In the midst of our soundcheck, we all looked out in the sea of empty seats to find Bob Seger sitting alone, listening to us. Folks, this doesn’t happen. I’ve opened for dozens of the big time acts that come through town, and you rarely see the headliner, let alone have him sit and check you out. This kind of interest and respect from a superstar is unheard of, and it quickened our purpose, got our mojo workin’.
I carry a large band too, and we arrived at the Huntington Center in downtown Toledo just before Bob’s soundcheck. His production staff and sound crew immediately found me and my manager and we went over details with a quick efficiency. Again, this is not the norm—generally the opening act has to chase somebody—anybody–down and sneak in a line check before doors open. As we were soundchecking, up one of aisles walked Seger’s longtime manager Punch Andrews, who shouted up to the stage with his usual pugnacious encouragement, “Mr Francke…kick some ass!” This was, of course, our singular mission.
I’ve been around rock’n’roll and show biz organizations long enough now to know that the vibe of the crew, management, tech people—everyone associated with the star—takes their attitude cue from the demeanor of the artist. Exuding the same warmth and empathy found in his songs, Seger’s team treated us not as some pain-in-the-butt ancillary act, but rather as an integral part of the evening’s entertainment.
To his fans, Bob Seger is the last of the great lion-hearted rockers, a true working class hero who has lent big time rock and roll the common qualities of dignity and empathy. So to join Bob on a date in the Midwest, playing to folks in Michigan and Ohio, is to some extent a celebration of who we are around here and what we believe in. Hearing his amazing book of songs both in soundcheck and in his show carries a connection with the way we reacted to signs of life in our youth: how we came to love a Seger song, where we were and who we were with, and how we came to feel that his songs were our own—a part of our own life. It’s not the flavor of the month; it=s not Rhianna or Lady Gaga. His songs are more like oxygen.
The first rock concert I ever went to was a Seger show at the Saginaw Civic Center. I was 15. Seger had recently released Live Bullet, just months after performing at my sister’s High School Senior party in Bridgeport, Michigan. Bob had been a road dog for many years already at that point and had worked hard and waited longer than most to make it.
Last night, during “Night Moves,” Bob’s finest moment, his enduring appeal became clear to me–why we continue to care so deeply. If you grew up in the time and place that I did, “Night Moves” contained nearly everything you cared about or did: The loss of innocence, in hopes of a greater awakening; backseat sex, because there truly was no particular place to go; the movement of weather, especially in summer; and the identification of an idealism we were just beginning to harness. In short, “Night Moves” is about a love of the world.
The reality of the demands in life has never been more concrete. If you grow older (which is the most pleasant condition when faced with its alternative), you meet them, embrace them, struggle with them, avoid them, or dismiss them. What’s in question, and what Bob Seger is singing about, is the character you exhibit when meeting these demands. What kind of courage it takes, what kind of grace, how much vision is required. The point of “Night Moves” is this: You can’t cheat life. You pay for everything. As I looked out at the audience while performing last night I thought, “Where were we going, riding around in those cars all night on empty two lane roads when we were younger?” Well, here we all are.
So thanks for the great gig Bob. Thanks for lending us your genial, accommodating crew, the artistic legitimacy of your stage, and mostly, your faithful audience and their knowing adoration. The folks in your audience know what it means to fight hard, win and lose; they know how rough it’s been around here lately; but they also know that layin’ down that hard earned cash for a ticket to a Seger show is a sure thing.
We were on the receiving end of the emotional largesse from this audience as well. It’s rare for an opening act to play to a full house, and rarer still for that crowd to listen and respond, but that’s what Bob’s audience gave us. Thanks Bob, for the great gig.