Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo
March 15, 2016
Kid Rock’s lyrics are a virtual minefield for anyone charged with ensuring he keep it clean. Granted, few of his songs are truly G-rated, but there’s less outright profanity than you might think — less than a few of Donald Trump’s recent campaign speeches, even. The proud son of the Motor City audibly changed a few lyrics on the fly Tuesday night, most notably substituting “coochie” for an even more vulgar term during “Cowboy,” to the delight of the 66,340 fans officially on hand. Rock himself seemed to draw great joy in playing the rodeo, now for the third time, and had no trouble sticking to his PG-13 set. For the most part.
Which is not to say he didn’t shout out various adult beverages and a few other controlled substances at a steady clip. “Shrooms” made it into “Wasting Time,” although it was tough to tell if “weed” did. (Despite the rodeo’s much-improved sound system, the cavernous stadium still swallows quite a few lyrics.) But although Beck’s and Boone’s Farm rated mentioning by name, among the many lines devoted to generic whiskey and malt-liquor, only Jim Beam actually made an appearance onstage. That was during the extended interlude after “Picture,” during which Rock did a shot and puffed on a blunt while scratching on a set of turntables as “DJ Bobby Shazam” before switching over to guitar to play a bit of ZZ Top’s “Tush,” and then over to drums on a pretty raw version of “Cat Scratch Fever.”
Rock is not a bad musician — he can keep a beat, anyway — but he is a much better entertainer. He definitely knows it, which must be why his hair kept getting that windblown look despite the lack of discernible air movement within the stadium. Lyrically, the word he changed most often was inserting “Texas” at every available opportunity, plus “Galveston Bay” at the top of “All Summer Long.” Besides, by the time he started goofing around on the drums and such, he had obliged the crowd with his two biggest post-Devil Without a Cause hits, granting him license to do whatever the hell he wanted for a spell. If the audience didn’t like it, one suspects he might say, they were free to go get another beer or start fiddling with their phones, or whatever the hell they wanted.
But he mostly kept in motion, making full use of the rodeo stage’s long catwalk-like extensions, and fully enjoying the abundance of pyro during several tunes. At one point he even enlisted a couple of band members for a bit of godawful choreography Rock described as some “Justin Bieber garbage.” The spring-break crowd sang along with gusto all night, most of all to “All Summer Long” and “Picture,” and especially the line “I was off to drink you away” — those folks must have had a lot of exes.
Behind him, Rock’s Twisted Brown Trucker Band hit all their marks, pivoting from the Eagles-meets-Journey opener “First Kiss” to the slick Southern soul of Skynyrd/Zevon flip “All Summer Long,” doubling back to the down-home B-boy hick-hop of “Wasting Time,” and then the AC/DC-Motown hybrid that was "Rock N' Roll Jesus" later on. The lights-out blond backup singer (introduced as Stacy P., I believe) and the tenor sax player nearly walked away with “Picture,” the latter giving it a little extra Silver Bullet feel. A couple of songs felt a little pedestrian, like the new “Johnny Cash” — which oddly lacked the hunger-driven edge of its namesake, even for a love song — but at their best, which was most of the time, the TBTs cruised along like the Fleetwood mentioned in “Wasting Time,” as yet another fine piece of Motor City machinery. Never was this more on display than on “Only God Knows Why,” which built up to a genuinely moving crescendo as Rock sang from the very bottom of his work boots. Bob Seger, Iggy Pop and Smokey Robinson would have all been proud.
One final minor aside: Rock has been oddly silent about political matters during our current election season, and indeed kept mum Tuesday. However, the penultimate song, “Born Free,” opened with an extended video that might as well have been a campaign commercial. In it, he praised Kentucky bourbon, Milwaukee steel and his smiling, tattooed fans who are free to love whomever they choose, from sea to shining sea. It was fairly obvious Kid Rock doesn’t think we need to make America great again. He seems to be pretty pleased with the way this country has turned out — a number in which he’s more than happy to put himself at the front of the line.
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Hell, I’d vote for him.
All Summer Long*
Interlude: "DJ Bobby Shazam"/Tush/Cat Scratch Fever
Rock N' Roll Jesus
Only God Knows Why
* — accompanied by a shit-ton of pyro that made the floor of NRG look like the Deer Park skyline at night