So let’s be straight about this: I was hating life on the way to see Kid Rock at the Air Canada Centre on Friday night.
Hating life. Hating, hating, hating, hating life. You don’t need the details, but it was a crap day – nay, a crap week – and drawing the assignment to review Kid Rock directly interfered with seeing the one show last night that I’d actually been looking forward to for a couple of months, U.K. songstress Anna Calvi’s Toronto debut at El Mocambo. I don’t hate the Kid or anything, but past experience held that, unlike Calvi, the skeet-iest of skeet-y white Detroit rap-rockers was not going to embody the Second Coming of P.J. Harvey and, moreover, that I’d just wind up bored and alone and pissed off at everyone around me at the ACC while they all got off to “Cowboy” and “Rock ‘n’ Roll Jesus” and I wondered why the hell I chose rock criticism as a job when, clearly, the gig was only created to frustrate and trample upon the passions of real music fans. Blah blah blah. Then it started raining when I left the house and I missed both the Queen and King streetcars and the knee I blew out a couple of winters ago started aching so I had to take a cab and spend half the cash I’d set aside for $10 ACC beers and blah blah blah a little more.
Hating life. I was hating life. But then a funny thing happened: Kid Rock totally kicked my ass. He totally kicked my ass.
I see a lot of shows, folks, and that was one of the finest, most smoothly executed and – and this is a big one – best sounding arena gigs I’ve been to in ages. Like a Vegas show, it was, and I’m pretty sure Kid Rock would recognize that as the compliment it is, in this case, meant to be. The dude has grown into a proper, all-around entertainer, and you can tell from the effort he’s put into this tour that he’s working for it. He wants to be that guy, the all-things-to-everyman, white-trash Michael Buble. And, damn it, after a few wobbly years of trying to parlay his early infamy as an unlikely hillbilly hip-hop MC/DJ double-threat peddling Licensed to Ill-redux rap/metal meathead-ism to the blue-collar masses into respectable adulthood as a self-appointed Southern-rockin’ heir to Lynyrd Skynyrd and Bob Seger, he’s got it right. He’s really got it right.
Backed by a 10-piece ensemble that kinda felt like the E-Street band with a turntablist in place of Roy Bittan – complete with large black man on saxophone – the man known to his mother as Rob Ritchie smoothly navigated between heroically crowd-pleasing riff-rock (the Metallica-sampling “American Badass,” “You Never Met a Motherf---er Quite Like Me” and the aforementioned “Cowboy”), Dixie-baiting good-time drawls (“God Bless Saturday,” “All Summer Long”) and pointedly brief digressions into balladry at the keyboard (“Care”) or the acoustic guitar (“Picture”) for two hours with nary a lapse in showmanship or pacing. In the middle of it all, he sucked down a double-shot of Jim Beam whilst blazing some scratch-turntable science on the decks, blasted off a coupla ZZ Top and Ted Nugent licks on the guitar and then finally decamped to the drumkit to propel his band through a few bars of “Cat Scratch Fever.”
Think Kid Rock’s getting a bit too old to keep on pimpin’ on the way he always has at 40? No worries: he’s got the hilariously self-deprecating-but-not “I’m F---ing 40” (“But Bruce Springsteen is f---in’ 62 / And the Stones are almost dead”) in the set list to let you know he knows, with video clips of John Stewart, Conan O’Brien and Jimmy Kimmel wielding a giant penis to wish him a happy 40th on the big screen. Thought the drag-the-stools-to-the-front-of-the-stage acoustic segment was already outstaying its welcome after two numbers? So did he. And he got Beavis and Butthead to say just as much. Right before sparks start raining down all over the stage and lazers start shooting everywhere and Kid Rock takes his shirt off and every woman in the crowd goes utterly freakin’ mad and the girl in front of you who fell down four songs into the show starts making out with her gaunt meth-head boyfriend like she’s gonna do him right there and the first, undeniable rumblings of “Bawitdaba” crush forth from the P.A. and you think: “You know what? For once, I think I’m gonna stay for the encore.”
I’ve seen Kid Rock on pretty much every tour he’s done since Woodstock ’99 and that killed all of them. I’m sure Anna Calvi was amazing, too, but it’s nice to receive a message up in your rock-critic ivory tower once in awhile that the “other half” lives how it lives for a reason.