CUYAHOGA FALLS, Ohio — Kid Rock knows his audience, but if Friday night’s concert at the Blossom Music Center is really what he wanted, then 20,000 people may be wrong.
The man worked his way through a nearly two-hour set. Yes, it included images of Donald Trump, Joe Biden and Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, a photo of a face mask with a middle finger superimposed on it and leading a chant in the song ‘We the People’ from ‘Let’s go Brandon,” a thinly veiled insult from the current president.
Some of that was to be expected, but perhaps not the appearance of the 45th president himself, who implored the near-full crowd in a pre-recorded video to “rock America again.” But it’s not just Kid Rock’s obnoxious political display that has aged rapidly. That was how flattering he was.
And the crowd ate it.
Kid Rock stopped by Blossom as part of his Bad Reputation Tour, named after his new album. The trek had him playing across the country with opening acts well past their prime. (Friday night was all going on for Foreigner in 2022, which I sadly missed by getting caught up in the hall’s famously gruesome traffic. I did, however, hear “I want to know what love is” on the radio while driving to the show, though.)
If anything, the show cemented a reputation it’s earned over the past decade by changing just enough to stay relevant for a certain audience. A great purveyor of rap-rock at the end of the 1990s, he is now in his fifties. He remains a shrewd businessman, however, and because of this now caters to a crowd that loves American flags and owns the libraries.
To be clear, it’s totally unfair to paint your audience with such a wide brush. But it wasn’t difficult Friday to encounter spectators wearing pro-Trump or anti-Biden shirts. There was even a sticker on a pickup truck with Chief Wahoo punching the Cleveland baseball team’s new Guardian mascot.
As for Kid Rock’s music, it’s now a mix of Bob Seger, 1970s arena rock and country, with silly lyrics like “Oh, I’ll soar like an eagle, my wings will carry”. There’s no dynamics, it’s just loud and impetuous.
Yet still the showman, his voice remains intact and carried by a 10-piece backing band. He can still do his jumping move while holding his hat on his head. He enjoys using fire, lasers and huge lights on stage which made the show a spectacle.
But complacency was omnipresent. Of course, he had to take a sip from an intentionally beautifully lit Jim Beam bottle and smoke a cigar during a mini-DJ set. Of course, he had to hobble through snippets of Ted Nugent’s “Cat Scratch Fever” and ZZ Top’s “La Grange.” And of course, he had to shout Cleveland every chance he got.
Plus, did he really need to amp up the crowd by blasting John Denver’s “Take Me Home, Country Roads” and Machine Gun Kelly’s “Bad Mother F****r” before he took the stage? Was he really worried that his own showmanship wasn’t enough?
What’s most disappointing about Kid Rock and the show is that the man has no shortage of musical talent. Many of his songs are basically similar to Beck’s postmodern styles or any hip-hop act that samples another artist. After all, the endlessly innovative Beastie Boys sampled AC/DC’s “Back in Black” for its debut single “Rock Hard,” and Kid Rock used the same song during Friday’s performance of the opener. Devil Without a Cause”.
But these elements do not make his music good. There’s only so many ’70s riffs to bang, so many power ballads to lament over, and so many weed references to make.
The show had a few brighter spots though, and they mostly came when Kid Rock went for simplicity. “Bad Reputation” was a competent tribute to Seger. “First Kiss” made me wonder how pop-punk fans would receive the song if it was played in their favorite style.
And some of his early hits like “Bawitdaba” and “Cowboy” still retain guilty pleasure status.
But for each of them there was a song, there were performances by a dud like “Don’t Tell Me How to Live,” with a video that featured CNN anchor Anderson Cooper and an eagle white-headed bird flying over shimmering body of water.
Kid Rock, for all his success, is he really concerned about wearing a mask or whatever a news anchor has said? No, he just knows it will piss people off and sell more concert tickets.
Eric Heisig is a freelance writer in Cleveland. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org