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Live Bullet
Bob Seger and the Silver Bullet Band

Capitol SKBB 11523
Released: April 1976
Chart Peak: #34
Weeks Charted: 140
Certified Platinum: 12/16/77

Bob SegerI've been listening to Bob Seger since 1966's "East Side Story," an odd, "Gloria"-like single with a theme that predates "Jungleland" by nine years. In Detroit, and much of the Midwest, Seger was (and is) a major star, good for a hard-rock hit every year, ranging from the antiwar diatribe "2+2=?" and the anthemic "Heavy Music" of 1967 to 1973's "Rosalie," a tribute to CKLW music director Rosalie Trombley. But because of poor recording, lack of record company support and what has at times seemed like willful career mismanagement, Seger has had only one national hit, "Ramblin' Gamblin' Man" in 1968. Though he's discovered a pair of stars -- the Eagles' Glenn Frey counts his first major achievement playing on "Ramblin' Gamblin' Man," and Eric Clapton's backing singer Marcy Levy made her debut on "Rosalie" -- Seger remains anonymous. For a man whose best work combines John Fogerty's energy and commitment with the subtle elegance of Van Morrison, the frustrations must be immense.

Seger's obscurity is more inexplicable because he is in so many ways the model of the mainstream rock singer. He has a big, R&B-derived vocal style, an intuitive instinct for classy guitar riffs, writes wonderful melodies. His songs tell their stories with with, economy and passion -- more importantly, he always has stories to tell. His most topical songs are naive (so are many of Fogerty's) but the better ones seem to sum up the mid-American rock experience. "U.M.C.," included here, is merely sanctimonious (the initials stand for "upper middle class") but "Lookin' Back" is the real thing, just what happened to rocking kids in the late Sixties:

You hit the streets
You feel 'em starin'
You know they hate ya
You can feel their eyes a-glarin'

Bob Seger and the Silver Bullet Band - Live Bullet
Original album ad art.
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Seger's other theme really amounts to an unshakable faith in the power of rock & roll to change a life -- his own, if no one else's. The versions here of Chuck Berry's "Let It Rock" and "Bo Diddley" are wonderful tributes to the masters who shaped Seger's music and his writing. In "Heavy Music" he manages to capture it all in a single line: "Doncha ever listen to the radio when that big bad beat comes on?"

Most of these songs are better recorded elsewhere; "Heavy Music" and "Let It Rock" are particularly disappointing. But the songs from last year's Beautiful Loser are much superior to these versions. If Live Bullet adds little new material to the Seger oeuvre, and if he has still not been properly produced, it has the advantage of offering a fairly extensive overview of his history. And because of the devotion of the crowd and the desperation of Seger's approach (this is something like his last chance to make it to the top, and he knows it), the album transcends its limitations.

Live Bullet doesn't have the feeling of triumph heard in the two greatest live rock records, the Who's Live at Leeds and the Rolling Stones' Get Yer Ya-Ya's Out!, nor does it own the sense of discovery found in Otis Redding's Live in Europe or the recent Nils Lofgren bootleg. This is a man who hasn't got it made, but who has already reckoned with his weaknesses and strengths. He works his heart out and perhaps tells us something special about what it means to be the average guy, with or without guitar.

In a way, the concert becomes a meditation on failure, from "Travelin' Man" to the mournful "Turn the Page," an exegesis of the space between total stardom and final burnout, affectionately reminiscing about the lovely times, excoriating the bad ones. In "Katmandu," the regional hit that earned him the two sold-out nights in Cobo Hall, where this record was made, he thinks of giving it all up, but the strength of his music belies the idea. Better than anyone before him, Seger knows the problems of partial success, and maybe what is so compelling about this record is that he seems so resigned to remaining that kind of star.

Seger's most deeply felt moments come when he moves beyond his personal tragedy into everyone's. "Jody Girl," the wonderful Morrison-style ballad that closes the first side, is a striking characterization of a woman with great potential who's sacrificed a brilliant future for not very much. In the album's best song, "Beautiful Lose," he describes a guy who is "always willing to be second best," who "always asks, always say(s) please," and never quite has the drive to break past his limitations. If I'm a loser, he seems to say, then I'll speak for every loser, but he does it without bitterness, anger or blame. And he's never only resigned. Seger cares for these characters (and in "Jody," I think, he has done something really rare -- created a plausible woman in song). Only once, finally, does he seem to address his own situation specifically:

Beautiful loser, never take it all
'Cause it's easier, and faster, when you fall
You just don't need it at all

Yet like John Lennon's, Seger's loser is not what he appears to be. There is resilience and success in the sound, if nowhere else. Live Bullet is a small triumph but, in its way, a magnificent one, capable of speaking without bathos for failures everywhere. With those songs, and this album, he has convinced me that I'll be listening to him for another nine years. And this time, I have a hunch, with a lot more company.

- Dave Marsh, Rolling Stone, 6/17/76.

Bonus Reviews!

One of the kings of heavy metal rock and a popular live attraction does an LP of what he does best -- a concert. Seger and his five-piece group (guitar, bass, drums, sax, keyboards) rip through 14 cuts, including 10 originals and material from Tina Turner, Chuck Berry, Bo Diddley and Van Morrison. Nothing fancy, but a lot more refined than most of the so-called heavy metal acts. Seger, in fact, is quite melodic when he chooses to be. Double set provides a good glimpse of a Seger show. A few good ballads. Best cuts: "Nutbush City Limits," "Beautiful Loser," "Bo Diddley," "Ramblin' Gamblin' Man," "Katmandu," "Let It Rock."

- Billboard, 1976.

The impassioned remakes from Beautiful Loser on side one are what live doubles are supposed to be for, and this one is sparing with the cheerleading and calisthenics. In short, it's good of its kind. But I'm from New York, I see a lot of rock concerts, and even when I'm in the room it takes more than "Ramblin' Gamblin' Man" and "Heavy Music" and refurbished songs from a guy's last album to get me excited. B

- Robert Christgau, Christgau's Record Guide, 1981.

Seger took his raspy-voiced blue-collar rock & roll to superstar status in the mid-seventies on the strength and endurance of his constant touring schedule. As concert recordings go, this one does a credible job of capturing the edgy intensity that Bob and the boys were able to generate live -- particularly on the "Travelin' Man/Beautiful Loser" medley. The release contains most of his obligatory material: "Turn the Page," "Ramblin' Gamblin' Man," and "Katmandu." The band is in fine fettle; Seger (as always) sings his ass off, and the hometown Detroit audience is appropriately appreciative. The sound, while overbright and edgy at its most intense moments, is generally first-rate for a live recording. B+

- Bill Shapiro, Rock & Roll Review: A Guide to Good Rock on CD, 1991.

A blistering live show from Cobo Hall, containing raucous versions of early material like "Nutbush City Limits" and "Get Out of Denver" as highlights. * * * *

- Cub Koda, The All-Music Guide to Rock, 1995.

Maybe it was the bicentennial, but 1976 was a great year for Bob Seger. First, Live Bullet showed the world what he middling production of Seger's eight prior albums couldn't; that he could rock with a fury to match anyone in rock's upper echelon. Playing in front of the partisan hometown brethren at Detroit's Cobo Arena, Seger and the Silver Bullet Band delivered a storming barn-burner of a show that -- thanks to some radio play for "Katmandu" -- finally made the rest of the country notice. Then he delivered Night Moves, a masterful collection of songs that retains the energy of Live Bullet -- particularly on the ferocious rockers "The Fire Down Below," "Sunspot Baby" and "Rock and Roll Never Forgets." * * * * 1/2

- Gary Graff, Musichound Rock: The Essential Album Guide, 1996.

It is rare for an artist to record a live album which then acts as the catalyst for new-found commercial success. But that is exactly what happened with Bob Seger and his Silver Bullet Band and their 'Live' Bullet album, recorded at Detroit's Cabo Hall. While the guitarist/singer had a decent enough following in his own backyard, it was the album's release in the summer of 1976 which boosted his career in his home country and brought him a wider audience beyond the shores of the US. In June 1976, he played in front of 50 people in a Chicago bar. Three days later, he played in front of 76,000 devoted fans in the Pontiac Silverdome outside Detroit.

While 'Live' Bullet managed a modest Number 34 placing on the US Hot 100 and did not even chart in the UK, it nevertheless built slowly and gave an insight into Seger's bluesy, almost funky, approach to rock and roll. Covers of songs such as Tina Turner's "Nutbush City Limits" and Van Morrison's "I've Been Working" are evidence of the funky side, while "Ramblin' Gamblin' Man" is pure American bar-room rock and roll.

As of 2004, 'Live' Bullet was the #44 best-selling album of the 70s.

- Hamish Champ, The 100 Best-Selling Albums of the 70s, 2004.

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