When Bob Seger stepped on stage at Grand Rapids' Van Andel Arena on Nov. 8, it had been 10 years, four months and 18 days since his last tour.
And you can bet he felt the effects of the layoff.
"Oh yeah -- the first night I did," Seger, 61, says with a laugh during a day off from his "Face the Promise" tour, which winds its way into the Palace of Auburn Hills for four shows over the next two weeks.
"Nothing prepares you for the first night," he continues. "You can rehearse your brains out and build up your stamina and everything else, but nothing prepares you for trying to sing over a crowd that's singing with your or making all that noise. That's an adjustment period."
The good news, Seger says, is "that adjustment period used to take seven to 10 gigs. This time it took just one gig, in Grand Rapids. After that it's been great. I got used to it right away."
That's saying something giving the lengthy break Seger took, both in touring and recording. (The platinum-certified "Face the Promise," which came out September 12, is his first set of all-new material since 1995.) But Seger, who was particularly encouraged by his children -- Cole, 14, and Samantha, 11 -- to get back on the road, came back determined to prove that the guy who sang that "Rock and Roll Never Forgets" had not forgotten how to rock 'n' roll.
"All I knew was I had better show up in great shape with a great voice every night. That is really my mission," he says.
Seger pursued it with vigor leading up to the tour, with five and a half weeks of rehearsal with his Silver Bullet Band and a work ethic that even impressed those who have worked with him for decades. "Bob really put himself into this -- we all did," notes Silver Bullet saxophonist Alto Reed, who's been with Seger since the early '70s. "It was some serious business getting ready for this (tour)."
The results, Seger says, are clear each night as he and the band chug through 25 songs over the course of about two hours and 10 minutes.
"All of the rehearsal and the preparedness that we did...is really paying off," he says. "We know about 45 songs. It's a longer show than we've ever done, and it's really fun because, I guess, we're just [i]ready[/i].
"The band is so dedicated. Everybody is just into it, which is really refreshing and really great. It's not like drudgery at all. It's like we can't wait to get up there."
Seger is making one concession to age, however; an eight-minute mid-show break that allows him to change his black T-shirt.
"I just get so wet," he explains with another laugh, "and so does Don (Brewer, the Silver Bullet Band drummer).
"We literally get soaked up there for the first half of the show. We do 13 songs and it's fairly high energy, and then the second half is even [i]more[/i] high energy. I look like I'm taking a shower at the end of the first 13, so I've gotta change."
The concerts are filled with hits and Seger staples -- "Roll Me Away," "Old Time Rock and Roll," "Turn the Page," the "Travelin' Man"/"Beautiful Loser" medley, "Night Moves," "Hollywood Nights" -- but there have been a few developments since the last time Seger and company were, as the song says, "on the road again." "Ramblin' Gamblin' Man," his first Top 20 hit, is back in the repertoire for the first time in 26 years. He's fleshed out the band with the four-piece Motor City Horns and is also performing a two-song sit-down set Seger says is "almost like you're in a living room."
Mostly, however, there's lots of new material -- a healthy sampling each night of songs from "Face the Promise."
"Yeah, we do a minimum of six new ones, and sometimes seven," Seger says. "We just shuffle 'em around to keep it fresh and keep the band on our toes. It feels really good out there."
He's not alone in that opinion. The reviews have been glowing throughout the tour, and at the end of a year that's been hit-and-miss for the concert industry Seger and company are routinely playing to capacity crowds.
"It's just huge, selling out everywhere," says Rick Franks of Live Nation, which is promoting the tour. "People are salivating. At one point there were the three B's -- Bruce (Springsteen), Billy (Joel) and Bob. They toured all the time. They were the three biggest bands in North America.
"Billy and Bruce haven't gone away. Bob took 10 years off. The fact Bob is back working, people are freaked out, coming out of the woodwork."
It's also getting a thumbs-up from the two fans who may count the most -- his kids.
"Oh, they're having a ball," Seger reports. "They're, like, 'Awesome, dad!' That's all. I think Cole's favorite song is 'Hollywood Nights' and Sam's is 'Old Time...'
"Sam said three days ago she's decided to be a singer...but that could change."
Seger is getting to see quite a bit of his family so far on the tour so far. He's been flying home after each show on a private jet and says he has yet to stay in a hotel room -- which, he notes, has always been his "least favorite thing" about touring.
Now, he explains. "I get to control what I'm doing. I can sleep really long and well at home. You get into a hotel where there's a little bit of construction in the hotel or across the street and you're doomed. You're fighting to find any time to get some rest, and that happens a lot. So this is a much better scenario for me."
He will, however, face the hotel "challenge" in the new year, as the tour winds its way into the South and West Coast, far enough away to prohibit quick trips home.
Seger plans to stay on the road until March 15, when drummer Brewer has to return to his regular gig with Grand Funk Railroad. Promoters, he says, are "screaming" for summer dates, but Seger hasn't decided about that yet. Nor has a firm decision been made about more Detroit area dates on the current tour.
For now, Seger says, he's simply focusing on the task at hand -- which, he reiterates, has been an enjoyable one.
"I'm living day to day, moment to moment, and so far there's no physical problems or anything like that," he says. "I'll be 62 in May, and I'm a realistic person. I'm having fun right now, and let's just see how I feel March 15."
Bob Seger & the Silver Bullet Band and Steve Azar perform at 7:30 p.m. Wednesday (December 20th) and December 28 and at 8 p.m. Friday (December 22nd) and December 30 at the Palace, Lapeer Road east of I-75, Auburn Hills. Tickets are sold out, but some premium seats for each show are being auctioned at www.ticketmaster.com. Call (248) 377-0100 or visit www.palacenet.com.
Send your thoughts and comments to