Two years ago, Kid Rock changed the way he approached touring. Rather than charge a week’s pay for tickets, he cut the price of most seats to 20 dollars and recouped via sponsorship and beer sales. The crowd had no doubt contributed generously to the latter, but that alone could not explain the enthusiasm last night at New Jersey’s PNC Bank Arts Center; audience members were so worked up that even the late-set commercial break earned a standing ovation. “When you get on your feet tonight, you’re standing for more than a cheap ticket,” Kid said in voiceover as flags waved, Chevy trucks drove through cornfields and a handgun was filled with ammunition. “You’re standing for the greatest motherfucking country on Earth.”
Nearly an hour and a half earlier, the show began in the country’s heartland. Kid Rock invoked small-town, teenage nostalgia with opener “First Kiss” – the lead single and title track off his new LP – then suggested the passing of time by jumping straight into the curmudgeonly “Good Times, Cheap Wine.” The song disses Coldplay, Facebook and Coachella, but this rendition culminated in a tracksuit-era synchronized dance routine pairing Kid with his one male back-up singer. As he said later in the night, “We can do some of that Justin Bieber bullshit too.”
A master of reinvention, Rock can do a whole lot else, as well. Robert Ritchie Jr. began his career as a white rapper with Kid ‘n Play hair. Nearly a decade thereafter, he was reborn as a nu-metal bullgod, selling 13 million copies of 1998’s Devil Without Cause, but by 2007, he had rechristened himself the “Rock N Roll Jesus.” Now he writes Seger-meets-Skynyrd country-rock and watches caged hogs squirm on his Alabama ranch.
Kid tried to account for this uneven development with a seven-song medley dubbed “the bi-polar rock-and-roller.” “I’m in love with rock & roll, but I got little side-pieces with hip-hop and country,” he said before singing some of Martina McBride collaboration “Care.” The a cappella performance sounded more gospel than anything, but it quickly exploded into Devil‘s “Fist of Rage.” Catching his breath, he offered an explanation: “You write that shit when you’re 25, not realizing you might have to perform it when you’re 45.”
The medley continued through “So Hott,” “Jesus and Bocephus” and “Midnight Train to Memphis,” but it reached its high point during an extended take of “All Summer Long.” While there was no rapping, the song captured the spirit of Rock’s favorite hip-hop better than anything else in the set, combining two unlikely throwback grooves to create a joyful party vibe that was more than the sum of its samples.
The party vibe continued as Rock walked offstage and returned as DJ alter-ego Bobby Shazam, scratching records while wearing a felt top hat that looked as if it were won shooting water pistols at the Michigan State Fair. Shazam lit his cigar while looping a clip of James Brown saying, “Fire it up,” then poured a shot as he pulled back the words “Jim Beam.” His most brilliant move was to pair Rock’s Sheryl Crow duet “Picture” with the bass line from the Temptations’ “My Girl.” “Grab the one you love,” the DJ instructed. “Or go grab yourself a beer.”
The show began to wind down as Rock reappeared for a raucous rendition of “Rock N Roll Jesus,” a gold cross on the jumbotron seeming to double the gold Chevy logo suspended from the roof. After the commercial break and its ovation, Kid played “Born Free” on a Mossy Oak camouflage–covered grand piano and exited to a thunderous “U.S.A.” chant. The chant turned into applause as he returned to sing “Bawitdaba” in a custom, Kid Rock–brand football uniform, number “00,” last name “Fucks Given.” As he sang earlier in the evening in “Good Times, Cheap Wine,” “You can try to change me or love me just the way I am” – last night in Jersey, Rock did the changing and the crowd did the latter.