There were a pair of red-white-and-blue-bikini-clad pole dancers, thousands of colorful streamers, enough fireworks to wake an entire zip code, and a great big shout-out to “the United States of Motherf-----’ America.”
In other words, Kid Rock’s “Greatest Show on Earth Tour” paid a visit to uptown Charlotte on Saturday night.
Though it’s been almost 10 years now since he last had a song in the Top 40 (that’d be “All Summer Long”), the “redneck” (his words) rocker/rapper from Detroit still managed to fill Spectrum Center top to bottom and side to side with fans for an audacious, jingoistic show that felt like a massive Fourth of July kegger.
Now, yes, detractors can be quick to snap to a judgment about Kid Rock and his flag-waving nationalism; they’ll point to the young woman wrapped in the Confederate flag in the floor section, the older man in the Confederate flag T-shirt double-fisting Budweisers, and the 47-year-old dude on stage who has a history of screaming “F--- Colin Kaepernick!!” at concerts.
And we’ll get to that. But first, we’ve gotta get this out there: Purely from an entertainment standpoint, the man born Robert James Ritchie is one heck of a showman.
Who else could keep 17,000 people on their feet for two hours while swinging wildly from the crunching guitar-rock of opening number “Greatest Show on Earth” to the Run-DMC-inspired hip-hop cut “Welcome 2 the Party (Ode 2 the Old School)” to a reflective country ballad like “Only God Knows”?
Who else can look comfortable at the helm of so many instruments – as a turntablist (“Welcome 2 the Party”), as a drummer (for a cover of Ted Nugent’s “Cat Scratch Fever”), a tambourine man (“Rock N Roll Jesus”), pianist (“Born Free”), and acoustic guitarist (“American Rock ‘n’ Roll”) – ?
Who else could get away with fur and a bowler hat, but also an Adidas track suit and a heavy gold chain, but also jeans and a white T-shirt with a blue vest bearing an eagle wrapped in an American flag?
He’s got a sense of humor: After opening with “Greatest Show on Earth,” he yelled “Thank you, goodnight!” to the crowd, then led his large band off the stage as it faded to darkness.
He’s self-deprecating: When his DJ, Bobby Shazam, gave him a hard time about the aforementioned outfits, Kid Rock feigned exasperation as he said, “Look, I get a little f-----’ confused. I mean, I’m rappin one second, then I’m f-----’ rockin’ out, then I’m doin’ this country s---. I don’t know how to f-----’ dress all the time.”
He’ll take risks: With backup singer Stacy Michelle filling in for Sheryl Crow’s part as the two sat on stools at center stage, he crudely but hilariously interrupted a very fine rendition of the melodious “Picture” mid-song with a “Beavis & Butthead” clip, which set up the blistering nu-metal anthem “Bawitdaba.”
What’s most interesting of all, though, is that for all the pro-America posturing Kid Rock is putting on display during his current tour, he actually seems to be toning it down a little bit.
Though he’s embraced Donald Trump in the past, and though he’s been politically divisive in the past, he didn’t invoke the president’s name once during the show. In fact, the outspoken Republican singer preached some semblance of unity.
During a pre-recorded voice-over tribute to U.S. servicemen and women, Kid Rock said, “They don’t care about red or blue on a map. No, they’re fighting for the whole damn flag with all their heart.” And then: “We’re proving that the only party that really matters is the one we’re having tonight, and it’s been brought to you by those who fought for the home of the brave.”
He also steered clear of Kaepernick – though one could argue that’s because the NFL’s most famous kneeling quarterback is no longer at the center of the zeitgeist – and he dropped a denouncement of transgender rights from his “Senate Speech,” which he’s been delivering at podiums during concerts ever since his aborted/fake run for Senate last year.
Yet he still pokes the bear. Despite all the grief he’s gotten and the vitriol that’s been aimed at him for his flying of the Confederate flag earlier in his career (he actually stopped including it in shows in 2011, after being honored by the NAACP), he won’t totally give it up. In the video for “Po-Dunk,” released last July, a pregnant woman wears a belly-baring Confederate flag tee while smoking a cigarette.
On top of that, in the video that ran during that tribute to the troops at Saturday’s show, there are a couple of slo-mo shots of the General Lee. Younger folks may not know it, but the roof of that 1969 Dodge Charger (from “The Dukes of Hazzard” TV show) was adorned with a big ol’ Confederate flag.
Yes, he’s got a complicated relationship with the African-American community. But what can we say? From where we sat, he looked to be celebrating black popular culture – homage was paid to a number of African-American artists, from Jimi Hendrix to Snoop Dogg and Dr. Dre – and to be promoting diversity. His team included three African-Americans: A dancer, backup singer Herschel Boone, and (excellent) drummer Stefanie Eulinberg.
And, like I said, Kid Rock is one heck of a showman.
If you can’t see that, or if you aren’t down with how he presents himself or what he stands for ... well, that’s what’s so great about “the United States of Motherf-----’ America.”
You’re free to choose to dislike him.
Kid Rock’s setlist
1. “Greatest Show on Earth”
2. “Senate Speech”
3. “You Never Met a Motherf----- Quite Like Me”
4. “Devil Without a Cause”
5. “American Bad Ass”
6. “Slow My Roll”
7. “Wasting Time”
9. “All Summer Long”
12. “Welcome 2 the Party (Ode 2 the Old School)”
13. “Cat Scratch Fever” (Ted Nugent cover)
14. “Rock N Roll Jesus”
15. “Only God Knows Why”
16. “Born Free”
17. “American Rock ‘n’ Roll”
20. “Gimme Some Lovin’ ” (The Spencer Davis Group cover)