Kid Rock: Back in Greensboro for the first time

by Ryan Snyder

Kid Rock’s Born Free tour sounds better with beer goggles. (photo by Michael Strider)

If there truly is nothing more American than lasers, strippers, making devil horns with your index finger and pinkie, crappy beer, flame throwers and embracing casual sleaze with open arms, then Kid Rock should be on Mt. Rushmore. Put him on the two-dollar bill and exotic dancers could solve the nation’s deficit problems by the next fiscal year. As the only arena-level survivor of rap-rock, the self-appointed Bumpkin Laureate is to Anheuser-Busch and clodhopping patriotism what Jimmy Buffet is to tequila and Bermuda shorts. He’s the product of clever branding, commitment to a formula and endearing to a common denominator, and judging from his Feb. 22 show at the Greensboro Coliseum, Kid Rock knows damn well on which side of the “Go big or go home” paradigm he sits.

For the discriminating country music fan, and not necessarily those in the house flying the rebel flag on their T-shirts, Rock’s show was also an opportunity to see the Great White Hope of Country in Jamey Johnson, a true throwback to the days of outlaw country in every sense. The grungy Johnson, however, suffered audibly from the cavernousness of the coliseum, with his crusty baritone sounding like someone’s drunken uncle breathily singing along to Waylon Jennings’ Black On Black. Most of the 10,945 in the building on a Tuesday night weren’t deterred by the sonic discordancy; “That Lonesome Song” in particular was a massive sing-along. Judging from the hopelessly long beer lines, the rest may have been too drunk to care.

The response to the opening notes of Bob Seger’s “Turn the Page,” too, was Pavlovian, as opener Ty Stone — with a voice as great as his body is bad — joined Johnson to pay tribute to the granddaddy of all rock sellouts. There’s still a shiver you get hearing tender ballads like “In Color” and a “hell yeah” that boils up during “The High Cost of Living,” and Johnson has the makings of everything a great country artist should be. His holding up a red Solo cup to the crowd as he walked off might just have been the last genuine moment of the evening.

For a guy who sells himself as such an indomitable badass, the choice to blare Journey’s “Don’t Stop Believin’” as intro music cast kind of an awkward tenor over the opening moments of Rock’s set. It did, however, entreat the hundreds of lazy smokers gassing the concourse with thick plumes of Marlboro to stamp out their butts on the floor.

Suddenly, the music cut, lasers sliced through the darkened arena and Rock sprinted down the catwalk to the opening rumble of 2000’s “American Badass.” It qualifies as a classic in comparison to the much of his show, a set heavy on his downhomey reinvention that slowly came to a head on his most recent album and tour namesake Born Free.

Aside from “Early Mornin’ Stoned Pimp” late in the show, Rock’s early indie-label catalogue might as well be dead to him. Grits Sandwiches for Breakfast and The Polyfuze Method are like those deformed maniacs living in their siblings’ attic in a Lovecraft novel, never acknowledged in the real world, only fed a weekly bucket of fish heads to sustain them. “Trippin’ with Dick Vitale” deserves at least one listen, if only for sheer novelty pur- poses, and yes, it’s just as patently moronic as it sounds.

Of course, subtlety is not Rock’s forte. His stage, a massive Jim Beam advert constructed to resemble the shape of an old Western saloon, was adorned with all the aforementioned patriotic paraphernalia and a disco ball, plus a few actual American flags. Like all great contemporary patriots, creating jobs is his modus operandi, and seemed to have fulfilled it by enlisting local talent to work the onstage poles. His DJ played the role of bartender as he poured Rock out a shot of Beam during his first moment of respite after the Warren Zevon/Lynyrd Skynyrd mashup “All Summer Long,” which included yet another Seger nod, this time a tease of “Mainstreet.”

“It’s great to be back in Greensboro,” he said, despite this show being billed as his first Greensboro appearance.

Part of Rock’s success with this crowd stems from an affectation of Southern imagery, contemporary and classic, in every available medium. His band teases the Allman Brothers’ “Midnight Rider” to preface “Cowboy.” He shows photos of himself holding an AK-47, donned in camo and stogie in mouth. He’s on a fishing boat with Zac Brown. Beavis and Butthead cut in on the video screen. He’s palling with Hank Williams, Jr. There’s even a shot of the Dukes of Hazzard thrown in there for effect.

Some of it works, like when he sat in a cheapo lawn chair onstage, swigging whiskey to dead air. It felt almost like a fireside chat as Rock opined on hitting 40. One of the best moments of the night came with his newly penned rebuttal on aging, “F**cking 40,” a witty caper where he casts Springsteen and Jagger as ancient in comparison. It’s one of the only times where Rock feels honest in his role and his appeal is most apparent. He’s a proponent of crappy beer, trashy women and cheap thrills, yeah, but maybe there’s time for that for every man. At least before turning 40.