City Slang: A positive Kid Rock review

There’s so much to say about the Kid Rock show at the DTE Energy Music Theatre (or, yes, Pine Knob) on Wednesday night, there was so much to take in, that this writer was genuinely grateful for ZZ Top. There was nothing wrong with ZZ Top, nothing at all. They look about 120 by now, but they rock through their blues tunes with style, and songs like “Tush,” “Gimme All Your Lovin’,” “Sharp Dressed Man,” and “Legs” can never be boring. What they are not is an adrenalin band, and they offered the perfect opportunity to sit back and people-watch. Having never been to a Kid Rock show before (and feeling that, as a Detroit music scribe, that is something that I really should do), the question running through the old noggin was, “who is the typical Kid Rock fan?”

And so sit and watch I did. As ZZ Top came and went, and as the big screen announced “15 minutes to show time,” then “five,” etc, the seats filled up and the buzz of anticipation became audible. “Happy Kid Rock Day,” one lady said to another, which was sweet if a little ironic considering the fact that he’s in the middle of an eight-show run at this venue. He himself said that it feels like Groundhog Day. The tickets are $20 a piece, which is more than reasonable in the current concert climate, and his people love him for it.

So, again, who are those people? The truth is, they are everyone. There are hip-hop kids here (predominantly white, for sure, but not exclusively), a few punks and metal-heads, old country dudes and bikers. There are young children and folk over 70. Men and women. There are guys here who obviously just came direct from their white collar workplace, put on their favorite ‘going out’ t-shirt, grabbed plenty of beer money and spent the night hi-fiving each other. There are the peeps who came from out in the sticks, proudly wearing their trucker caps and American Eagle shirts. Some people are hammered drunk and/or stoned, others are simply high on the vibe. There are Slayer, Guns N’ Roses, White Stripes and Run DMC shirts. Lots of Lions, Pistons, Tigers and Wings apparel. The Kid Rock crowd is everyone. It’s the people you work with, your parents, your neighbors, drunken Uncle Willie.

There are lots of people here who likely hardly ever go to shows, who wouldn’t dare, for example, go see a band play in the Old Miami or anywhere in Ham-town. This is a rarity for them and so, as a direct result, it’s an event. It’s a party. They don’t want depth, and they’re not going to get it. They just want a big show from a big showman, and they’re certainly going to get that. The temptation, therefore, for those with a discerning music palate, is to feel superior. Because you know Public Enemy’s “Fight the Power” album backwards, because you listen to “real” southern rock, because you like punk bands with intelligent lyrics, because you can see past the hype, etc, etc. You have to fight against that mindset – elitism and snobbery are never attractive qualities. And these people deserve their show. But then there’s the politics.

That’s a little tougher to deal with, because Kid Rock has made no secret of where his political allegiances lie. He’s an outspoken Republican, and that jars with those who have the opposite opinions. This is going to sting a little but, in his defense, he has every right to hold his opinions. His statements have touched on controversial issues in the past but he’s never sunk to the depths of someone like Nugent in terms of outright buffoonery. Kid Rock might believe in the right to bear arms, for example, but he isn’t racist. That’s important, because he’s been misrepresented in the past. It’s partly his own fault – wearing a confederate flag because he’s a big Skynyrd fan was really, really silly. He might have beliefs that are different to yours and mine, but he’s perfectly free to have those beliefs and, to his great credit he generally doesn’t take them on stage with him. He tells us how much he loves America and God, sure. He states that he believes in hard work and toil, and who can argue with that? Flags unravel behind him, and the show opens with a prayer. Fair enough. That’s what Kid Rock does.

He also does a fuck of a lot more. One thing that he doesn’t ever get enough credit for is taking rap to a whole new audience. He can’t claim to have taken hip-hop to the mainstream – that had already been done. But tonight, there were men and women well into their 70’s standing, head-bobbing and downright enjoying Rock’s straight-up rap tunes. Without Kid Rock, those same people would likely be going to Sammy Hagar shows saying “rap isn’t music, it’s just talking” but here they are waving their hands in the air like they just don’t care.

Kid Rock can rap too. Any purists who claim the contrary are either bitter or silly. The man can rhyme in time (see what I did there?) with the best of them. His singing voice has gotten better with time, and his big rock SCREAM is getting mighty impressive. He’s also a multi-instrumentalist, and his mini-stint on the DJ decks tonight was genuinely good fun.

He plays all of the big tunes that everybody wants to hear. There are lasers and fireworks, confetti and beach balls. The Twisted Brown Trucker band are fucking tight, and Kid Rock stands front and center like the ringmaster. He’s pulled this whacky, varied crowd together and they are all in the palm of his hand. The music shifts from hip-hop to rock to country to funky soul, and it never seems forced. The “All Summer Long” single is crap. Sorry Bob. But the closing “Bawitabawaddywaddy” is a trip. Carnival sirens ring, the explosions lift the roof, the crowd goes wild.

Kid Rock spends a good portion of the show telling us what he is (an American bad ass, Detroit cowboy, real McCoy, devil without a cause, my name is Kiiiiiiiiiiid), what he’s done (drank champagne from the Stanley Cup, met the President half stoned, shaken hands with the Prince of Wales, kissed a girl, etc) and what he likes (Johnny Cash AND Grandmaster Flash, big corn-fed Midwestern ho’s). That’s his shtick. But what he actually is, is the best showman in town.

You can detest Kid Rock with every inch of your being. Go ahead – as the man himself makes a point of telling us, you were born free. Just don’t paint him and his crowd into a tight little box of redneck-edness because that’s simply not the whole story. It’s part of the story, sure. But not the whole story.

Sometimes we want depth and intelligence in music. Sometimes we need the unconstrained fury of Negative Approach or the social commentary provided by Jessica Care Moore. There are occasions when the street-smart rap of Slum Village provides the perfect soundtrack, and others when we need to hear Stevie tell us not to worry about a thing. But every now and again, isn’t it ok to just want a show? To regress to that time in our childhood when fireworks and big anthems gave us goose bumps? I don’t know, make your own decision. Bob Ritchie ain’t losing any sleep.

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