Kid Rock exited the Royal Farms Arena stage after his first song on Saturday night, only to return a couple of minutes later in front of a mock-presidential lectern. With video screens reading “Kid Rock ’18 for U.S. Senate,” the Michigan-born rapper-turned-country singer addressed his base.
“What in the hell is going on in the world today?” Kid Rock asked the venue, which was mostly full. The crowd responded with cheers and whistles.
He lambasted Obamacare, without mentioning it by name, as a “redistribution of wealth;” women who have “kid after [expletive] kid after [expletive] kid;” deadbeat dads; those who call him a racist and feel the need to remind him “black lives matter;” and the KKK. He shouted out Jesus and, as if the eye-rolling diatribe wasn’t on-the-nose enough, criticized those who “want to take a knee or sit during our ‘Star-Spangled Banner.’ ”
More cheers, more whistles.
With a career spanning three decades, Kid Rock has accomplished no small feat: He remains an arena-filling artist that has learned to pivot — from rapper to rock-rapper to country rock-rapper to country singer — while scoring enough new hits to avoid being a legacy act. The zeitgeist might not recognize Kid Rock these days, but there are still plenty of people who gravitate toward his middle-finger-waving attitude. (His merchandise, which can’t be printed here, reinforced the defiance.)
Saturday’s concert reflected the strange, winding road that is Kid Rock’s discography. There were tastes of the “Devil Without a Cause” era that turned him into a “TRL” star (“Cowboy,” the closing scream-along “Bawitdaba”) and the pro-USA songs that helped put him on his current path (“American Bad Ass,” “You Never Met a [expletive] Quite Like Me”).
There was plenty of current-day country Kid Rock, too. “Po-Dunk,” a single from last year’s “Sweet Southern Sugar,” was a saloon-ready foot-stomper, and it was hard not to envision a bald eagle flying in the breeze to the rollicking “Slow My Roll.” On songs like these, Kid Rock’s backing band (which included three backup singers, two guitarists, a bassist, a saxophonist, a keyboardist, two percussionists and a DJ) provided the heavy lifting. His thin, scratchy wail — along with his constant bravado — worked just enough to keep the party spinning.
And here lies the problem. Kid Rock’s turn as a twangy, bar-band singer feels like competent Lynyrd Skynyrd or Bob Seger karaoke, while his rock-rap hybrid songs of yesteryear are poorly aging relics. The latter’s quaint nostalgia technically sounded better on Saturday night, but also felt completely out of step in 2018.
“Get more money than Matchbox 20,” Kid Rock bragged during “Cocky,” before rapping that he’s more of a ladies’ man than Mark McGrath (Sugar Ray’s singer, remember him?).
His DJ turned this dynamic into a drawn-out comedy bit, comparing old photos of a flat-top-sporting, hip-hop-obsessed Kid Rock to the fringe-wearing cowboy we’ve seen on red carpets in recent years. To Kid Rock’s self-deprecating credit, he gamely owned the dual personalities, switching from a denim cowboy look to a black Adidas tracksuit made famous by Run DMC.
At a Kid Rock concert, showmanship matters, which explains kicking the set off with the recent single, “Greatest Show on Earth.” He played some riffs on a Gibson Flying V guitar, played drums while singing “Cat Scratch Fever” and punctuated an effective turntable segment with a shot of whiskey.
And yet it was hard to walk away feeling like the night was about music. It felt more like a reaffirmation of politics set to flaming pyro, pole dancers and a loud soundtrack. The most egregious reminder came before the main set ended with “Born Free,” a song best known for selling pickup trucks.
Before the song kicked in, a video montage displayed serious images of U.S. soldiers in action. In an earnest, pre-recorded voiceover speech, Kid Rock leaned into one final message: The military’s sacrifice allowed us all to come together, party and forget our troubles for a couple of hours. Like the other political asides baked into the show, the execution was kitsch and heavy handed.
Kid Rock, the faux-politician, had struck again.