Review: Defiant Kid Rock thumps protesters in LCA-opening show

Adam Graham
The Detroit News

Kid Rock kicked off a new era in Detroit concertgoing on Tuesday with the inaugural performance at Little Caesars Arena, offering up a career-spanning two-hour set that found the Michigan rebel defiant against those who protested his opening of the city’s new sports and entertainment complex.

It certainly wasn’t the way Olympia Entertainment wanted to hail the arrival of the new venue. Prior to the show, protestors marched down Woodward Ave. rallying against Rock, who for years used the Confederate flag as part of his imagery and stage show. His open support of President Donald Trump has also riled many critics.

Rock blasted those who opposed him midway through the concert, while seated at a piano during his intro to "Cowboy." "If anyone wants to protest tonight, tell them they can protest these nuts," Rock said. He then chuckled and added, "that wasn't very nice," then thanked Detroit police for doing a good job of controlling crowds and keeping the evening incident-free.

In "Cowboy," ironically, Rock refers to cops as pigs. But that's Rock the artist, playing a role, and on Tuesday there was often a push-pull between Kid Rock, the rock and roll artist and entertainer, and Bob Ritchie, the outspoken individual, whose recent teases about a potential run for U.S. Senate have garnered him the most media attention he has had in years.

He played that potential politician role up early in the show on Tuesday, giving a sing-songy stump speech that largely mirrored the one he debuted in Grand Rapids several nights prior. He again mentioned his denouncement of racists and the KKK, slammed those who take advantage of the welfare system and offered support for single mothers, but this time around, he added a few lines pertaining to the LBGTQ community.

“And why these days is everything soooo gay?” he asked. “Gay rights, transgender this and that. I say let gay folks get married if they want, and I’m not even close to a death trap. But things shouldn’t be this complicated, and no you don’t get to choose, because whatever you have between your legs should determine the bathroom that you use.”

This speech earned cheers from the near-capacity crowd, but it was a curious inclusion that colored the rest of the evening. It drew a line in the sand that didn’t need to be drawn, playing to the politics of division that are favored by Trump, and it did little to add any entertainment value to the concert. In fact, it detracted from it, because it let Ritchie the individual overshadow Kid Rock the entertainer. One makes headlines, one makes music, and the two seem somewhat at odds with one another.

Otherwise, Rock offered up a sturdy show that added several new wrinkles from his last set of hometown performances, a record-setting 10-show stretch at DTE Energy Music Theatre in summer 2015.

He opened the night with “Greatest Show on Earth,” one of several new songs in the show, and presented it with a full-blown circus theme complete with stilt walkers and jugglers. Confetti canons blew out into in the crowd at its close and he offered up a curt “thank you, good night!” and exited the stage – almost a bold exit that would have made the night even more controversial. But it was just a set-up to reintroduce himself and give his Senate speech, and he hit the stage to “Hail to the Chief.”

Elsewhere in the show – in which he was backed by his full-bodied Twisted Brown Trucker band – Rock offered up a warm cover of Rod Stewart’s “Maggie May,” delivered a piece of the Allman Brothers’ “Midnight Rider” (as part of an introduction to “Po-Dunk,” another new single) and he mixed pieces of Loggins and Messina’s “Your Mama Don’t Dance” into “Tennessee Mountain Top,” which he performed alongside his openers, Sweet Tea Trio.

Those new songs were mixed in with standbys you’d need a jackhammer to remove from Rock’s setlist, including “Cocky,” “Rock and Roll Jesus,” “Born Free,” “Picture” and “Only God Knows Why.” Some of his banter is well past its expiration date – he’s been introducing a choreographed dance routine by dismissing it “Justin Bieber (nonsense)” for much longer than it’s been a relevant reference – but there were some changes, too, including doing “Welcome 2 the Party” over the instrumental of Grandmaster Flash’s “The Message.”

Little Caesars Arena got its chance to strut its stuff during "Born Free," when the LED panels in the building's ceiling lit up and formed an American flag during "Born Free." It was a nice surprise and a feature that next-level visual stylists will no doubt begin incorporating into their productions; here's hoping the Weeknd has some cool tricks up his sleeve when he visits the building in November.

Special geust Uncle Kracker took the stage late in the night and sang his cover of “Drift Away,” while images of recently departed musicians – from Prince to Merle Haggard to Glenn Frey – flashed on the video screen. (Earlier, a video tribute to Mike Ilitch was flashed on the screen, declaring him an “American Bad Ass.”)

Following his traditional closer of “Bawitdaba,” Rock came back out on stage read off a list of people he wanted to thank, from the people who built the arena to the staff working it to the fans who came out and enjoyed the show. He closed with “Shake, Rattle and Roll,” another cover, a fun way to end an evening where controversy overshadowed celebration.