What’s more patriotic than spending the night before Independence Day with Kid Rock in the bosom of America’s heartland? Perhaps a concert by Lynyrd Skynyrd (with original singer Ronnie Van Zandt) on an aircraft carrier stationed off the coast of the Super Bowl and co-piloted by the ghosts of John Wayne, Johnny Cash, and Dale Earnhardt Sr. But that’s logistically inconvenient, so Kid Rock’s boisterous tour kick-off show Sunday night at Milwaukee’s Marcus Amphitheater will do. Firing up the crowd with the soul-stirring cheese of Journey‘s “Don’t Stop Believin’,” because of course he does, Kid Rock presented an all-American production on an all-American stage, outfitted with two mammoth red, white, and blue flags, two bars, four strippers, at least a dozen different pyro stations, a million lasers, and one very large smoke-shooting longhorn cow skull.
Suffice it to say, the older and wiser Kid Rock of 2010’s Rick Rubin-produced Born Free is thankfully put to bed early with a warm glass of milk in a live setting. Striding on stage in a black leather vest and dark blue jeans, Kid Rock was even rapping again, as well as grabbing his crotch, jumping up and down like a giddy 19th century prospector, and telling any and all comers to “suck my dick” on profoundly stupid (yet totally irresistible) songs like the set opener “American Bad Ass” and the sexually overheated “So Hott.”
It seems strange to express nostalgia for this Kid Rock—the proudly obnoxious dullard from Detroit Rock City who split the difference between Korn‘s aggro-rap and Limp Bizkit’s party-hearty antics in the late ’90s—but over the past decade he’s gradually transformed himself from a rap-rocker to a blue-collar (and rather boring) balladeer. Kid Rock’s ascension to his current status as our biggest mainstream solo male rock star is nothing short of remarkable; not only did he avoid Fred Durst’s fate, he turned himself into John Mellencamp. “I like big, corn-fed, Midwestern hos” is the new “little pink houses for you and me.”
“Picture,” Kid Rock’s smash 2002 duet with Sheryl Crow (who opened the concert in typically slick and professional fashion), was a key part of his successful career transition, and the song predictably drew some of the biggest cheers of the night. But Kid Rock was truly in his element whenever he ditched the sensitivity and attempted earnestness of the softer songs (like the lame piano ballad “Care” from Born Free), and simply allowed his inner butthead to once again roam in the wild. During “Cowboy,” Kid Rock had a sea of hands waving in the air like they just didn’t care, as fireworks exploded in the night’s sky over neighboring Lake Michigan. He might not be a gifted singer, songwriter, or musician, but In Kid Rock’s America, you can still be whatever you want to be, so long as you have a flair for showmanship, a malleable sense of identity, and absolutely no shame.