February 9, 2008
By BRIAN MCCOLLUM
FREE PRESS MUSIC CRITIC
There was a moment in Kid Rocks bustling, three-hour concert Friday night when you could briefly peel it all back back past the superstardom, past the grand theatrics, past the country and Southern rock frills that have come to line his music.
Shoulder to shoulder with rap elder Rev. Run, one of three musical guests invited to Joe Louis Arena as part of the Rock and Roll Revival tour, the Detroit star traded verses on an animated rendition of Walk This Way. With his band roaring behind them, serving up the linchpin Aerosmith riff that turned the song into a Run-DMC smash, it was as if Kid Rock were, just for a moment, that long-ago kid in Romeo discovering the powerful lure of a seductive rap rhyme.
When it comes down to it, Walk This Way was the song that launched everything Kid Rock would ultimately become. At 37, he may have moved well beyond the elementary rap-metal that once marked his work. But everything that hit represented in 1986 the crashing together of hip-hop and rock, the meeting of swagger and glitz, the repurposing of familiar old components remains fundamental to his career.
That career path moved on to its logical next step Friday at the Joe, where a rambunctious capacity crowd of about 16,000 gathered for the first in a two-night stand. The Rock and Roll Revival tour marks the latest of Rocks periodic efforts to enhance his live show: an old-school revue tour featuring guest artists supplying a diverse array of music. In this case, the enlistees were Run, funk-rock vocalist Peter Wolf and Southern rock icon Dickey Betts, all backed in various formations by Rocks newly customized Twisted Brown Trucker band.
The guests did their thing in short stretches, spliced amid Rocks own set. Wolf, still wiry and gyroscopic at 61, hopped out for an early performance of his J. Geils Band chestnut Love Stinks before returning for a fun 10-minute set that included the wiry Detroit Breakdown and Musta Got Lost, complete with the charismatic Wolfs famous stage patter.
A more modest Betts was joined by Rock for a run through the Allman Brothers Ramblin Man, a shaky number lighting miscues and all saved only by the familiar white-lightning tone of Betts guitar lead.
After a brief intermission, Rev. Run paired up with Rock to swap rhymes on a handful of old Run-DMC classics: Its Tricky, You Be Illin, King of Rock and the crowd-raising Walk This Way.
Kid Rocks long history of area performances, a schedule that has often featured three or four hometown shows annually, has left Detroiters well acquainted with his live repertoire. But this was a markedly different sort of show for the locals the kind of night when traditional show closer Cowboy could get moved substantially forward in the set list.
Rock kept his sets first half relatively mellow and low-key, as if to reserve some of the audience energy for his guests spots. He drew frequently from his latest record, Rock and Roll Jesus, allowing the crowd to familiarize itself with the newest members of his road band most notably Detroit sax man Dave McMurray, who graced Roll On with a jazzy soul solo, and Pontiac guitarist Marlon Young, whose fluid, fiery leads were a premium addition to the band.
Rock cranked things up as the show zoomed in to a close, pulling from his standard bag of stage fare before bringing out his guests for an odd if well-intentioned group cover of Buffalo Springfields For What Its Worth.
It wasnt a perfect night: The staggering of guest sets kept the show from building a proper momentum, and Rocks own indulgence in his Rock and Roll Revival imagery complete with exhortations to fans to exchange greetings of fellowship often felt clumsy and forced.
But its clearly a concept with promise, and Rocks live show was certainly due for an overhaul. With the right tweaks, the right attention to pacing, he just might find himself looking at a concert approach that will pay dividends well into the future.