Sunday, July 17, 2016

CD Review: Bob Seger & the Silver Bullet Band's Radio Chicago 1976 (2016)

Bob Seger's Radio Chicago 1976
At 1976’s opening bell, Detroit’s favorite son – Bob Seger – was just another blue-collar rocker who’d been treading the boards for better than a decade in search of the fabled brass ring of success. By the year’s end, he’d be a shooting star on his way to legend status, and all because of one little ol’ album that, if it hadn’t have sold the copies it did, might have consigned Seger to history’s teetering stack o’ cult rock obscurities.

Released in the spring of ’76, ‘Live’ Bullet captured Seger and his road-tested band’s electrifying stage show in front of a frenzied hometown crowd at Detroit’s Cobo Hall on wax. The double-LP set earned the singer his first Top 40 album, ‘Live’ Bullet eventually certified as five-times Platinum™. Seger ended the year with a studio album, Night Moves providing a fine bookend to an explosive year, the album cementing his success with a Top Ten showing, three hit singles (including the title track’s #4 chart showing), and over six million copies sold.

Bob Seger & the Silver Bullet Band’s Radio Chicago 1976

Even as stardom loomed over the horizon, Seger’s popularity was entirely regional, his hard-charging rock ‘n’ roll style – peppered with soul and blues and former Third Power guitarist Drew Abbott’s underrated, impressive fretwork – was perfectly suited to his fans’ Rust Belt mentality. Even while he was beginning to break through to mainstream audiences, the dichotomy of his appeal was obvious to band and critical observers alike. In June 1976, Seger played to a sold-out crowd of nearly 80,000 fans at the Pontiac Superdome outside of Detroit; the next night, Seger and the Silver Bullet Band performed for a few hundred fans at the B’Ginnings club in the Chicago suburb of Schaumburg, Illinois.

The show was originally broadcast live on WXRT-FM radio in Chicago, and has recently been released for the first time on compact disc as Radio Chicago 1976 for long-suffering Seger fans. Although released underground as a vinyl bootleg incorrectly titled as Live In Montreal 1978, this proper CD release features a superb live recording of the band kicking out the jams with a performance as vital and exciting as the previous night’s party at the Silverdome. Offering up twelve songs (“Lookin’ Back” and “Mary Lou,” split by a DJ announcement, are two separate performances), the set list reaches back to Seger’s early career, Radio Chicago 1976 showcasing a band about to burn down the world with talent and ambition.

Radio Chicago 1976 opens, seemingly with the concert already underway, the band cranking out a raw-boned performance of “Bo Diddley/Who Do You Love?” from Seger’s excellent 1972 Smokin’ O.P.’s album. With Drew Abbott’s stinging guitar licks and Robyn Robins’ fleet-fingered keyboard runs leading the way, the band establishes a raucous foundation for the remainder of the show. Chris Campbell’s funky bass solo, embellished by Robins’ keys, keeps the party rolling for nearly eight minutes. Seger’s originals “Travelin’ Man” and “Beautiful Loser” hail from his fan favorite 1975 LP Beautiful Loser, which flirted with Top 40 status upon its release. The former song is a rollicking, mid-tempo “rocker’s life on the road” style song that features Abbott’s wiry guitar and some fine percussion from drummer Charlie Martin while the latter is a rockin’ ballad fueled by Robins’ chiming keyboards, with Seger’s earnest vocals augmented by Abbott’s sly, nuanced guitarplay.

Ramblin’ Gamblin’ Man

The blazing “Katmandu” is, hands down, one of Seger’s most all-time popular tunes, delivered here as a rapid-paced, soul-flavored rocker that features the singer’s vocal gymnastics, Abbott’s Chuck Berry-styled git-pickin’, and Alto Reed’s raging saxophone dancing atop a pile-driving rhythmic groove. The R&B standard “I Feel Like Breaking Up Somebody’s Home” offers up some of Abbott’s tastiest Southern-fried fretwork with Seger acquitting himself nicely as a soul shouter while “Lookin’ Back,” released only as a single, revisits the late ‘60s incarnation of the Bob Seger System, the gospel-tinged performance featuring reverent vocal harmonies and Robins’ inspired keyboard riffs. A cover of the Ronnie Hawkins’ ‘50s-era jam “Mary Lou” would become a favorite track from Night Moves; performed here, the song is provided a wired, imaginative arrangement that pivots on Abbott’s distorted rattletrap guitar and a swinging, ramshackle rhythmic backdrop.

“Ramblin’ Gamblin’ Man” was actually Seger’s first Top 20 charting single (#17) in 1968, the song breaking out nationally but doing little to improve the singer’s fortunes (the subsequent album only made it as high as #68 on the charts); during the ensuing years, it has become a bona fide classic rock treasure. With Seger’s voice accompanied by a heavy keyboard riff and a dense, fluid rhythm, the band’s backing harmonies fit hand in glove with Seger’s livewire vox and Abbott’s buzzsaw guitar. A cover of Chuck Berry’s classic “Let It Rock” is a revved-up, redlined, runaway locomotive of a performance. Seger’s machine-gun reading of the master’s lyrics is bolstered by the band’s well-oiled, turbo-charged instrumentation, led by Robins’ tortured keyboards, Abbott’s gritty guitar, and Reed’s soaring saxophone. The extended jam given the song provides an excuse for Seger to get the audience involved in the performance.

Seger’s “Rosalie” is an underrated gem in the singer/songwriter’s back catalog that was originally recorded for Seger’s Back In ’72 album (which has never been reissued on CD…c’mon Bob, what are you waiting for?!). A tribute to Windsor, Ontario’s CKLW-AM music director Rosalie Trombley, an early Seger supporter, the song would later be nicely covered by U.K. rockers Thin Lizzy. This night in the Chicago suburbs, “Rosalie” is provided a raucous performance with gang vocals, rattling fretwork, high-flying keyboards, and explosive percussion. Just for the hell of it, the band covers Led Zeppelin’s “Whole Lotta Love,” Seger introducing the song with a lengthy spiel that unrolls above Abbott’s John Lee Hooker-inspired booger-rock guitar licks. While Seger doesn’t possess the high register of Zep’s Robert Plant, his more soulful vocals are assisted by Abbott’s amazing guitar playing while the band rocks the house with reckless abandon. Radio Chicago 1976 closes with the wicked rocker “Lucifer,” from Seger’s 1970s album Mongrel. Featuring one of Seger’s best leather-lunged vocal performances, the band evinces a complex, slightly-funky groove with Abbott’s roaring fretwork at the forefront.

The Reverend’s Bottom Line

Radio Chicago 1976 is an unexpected, early Christmas present for Bob Seger fans. Hailing from the period that the hardcore faithful consider the Motor City legend’s best era (1972 through 1979), this performance captures Seger and the talented Silver Bullet Band near the peak of their abilities, stalking the stage each night like the hungry predators they were. Better yet, the twelve tracks on Radio Chicago 1976 only duplicate seven songs from ‘Live’ Bullet, with “Rosalie” and “Lucifer” both live rarities and the Zep cover never repeated on tape to my knowledge. Sound quality here is very good, with only slight echo and distortion, the CD faithfully replicating the sound of the band’s incredible performance. Got it? Get it! Grade: A+ (All Access/MVD Audio, released July 8, 2016)

Related content: Bob Seger's Smokin' O.P.'s CD review

Buy the CD from Bob Seger & the Silver Bullet Band's Radio Chicago 1976

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