CUYAHOGA FALLS, Ohio — Kid Rock knows his audience, but if Friday night’s concert at Blossom Music Center is truly what he wanted, then 20,000 people can be wrong.
The man pandered his way through a nearly two-hour set. Yes, that included images of Donald Trump, Joe Biden and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, a picture of a face mask with a middle finger superimposed on it and leading a chant in the song “We the People” of “let’s go Brandon,” a thinly veiled insult of the current president.
Some of those were to be expected, though perhaps not the appearance by the 45th president himself, who implored the near-capacity crowd in a prerecorded video to “make America rock again.” But it wasn’t just Kid Rock’s obnoxious display of politics that got old fast. It was how much he pandered.
And the crowd ate it up.
Kid Rock stopped at Blossom as part of his Bad Reputation tour, taken from the name of his new album. The trek has him playing across the country with opening acts long past their prime. (Friday night’s was whatever passes for Foreigner in 2022, which I unfortunately missed while getting caught in the venue’s famously awful traffic. I did hear “I Want to Know What Love Is” on the radio while driving to the show, though.)
If anything, the show cemented a reputation he garnered in the past decade of changing just enough to stay relevant to a certain audience. A leading purveyor of rap-rock in the late 1990s, he is now in his 50s. He remains an acute businessman, however, and because of that now caters to a crowd that loves American flags and owns the libs.
To be clear, it’s totally unfair to paint his audience with such a broad brush. But it wasn’t difficult Friday to run into concertgoers wearing pro-Trump or anti-Biden shirts. There was even a bumper sticker on one van with Chief Wahoo punching the Cleveland baseball team’s new Guardian mascot.
As for Kid Rock’s music, it is now into a mix of Bob Seger, 1970s rock and arena country, complete with boneheaded lyrics like “Oh, I’m gonna soar like an eagle, my wings will carry me away.” There are no dynamics, it’s just loud and brash.
Still, ever the showman, his voice remains intact and buoyed by a crack 10-piece backing band. He can still do his trademark jump-while-holding-his-hat-on-his-head move. He loves to use fire, lasers and huge lights onstage, all of which made the show a spectacle.
But the pandering was ever-present. Of course he had to take a swig of an intentionally beautifully lit Jim Beam bottle and smoke a cigar during a mini-DJ set. Of course he had to limp through snippets of Ted Nugent’s “Cat Scratch Fever” and ZZ Top’s “La Grange” And of course he had to shout out Cleveland every chance he got.
Also, 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 taking the stage? Was he really worried his own showmanship wouldn’t be enough?
What’s most disappointing about Kid Rock and the show is that the man does not lack musical talent. Many of his songs are fundamentally similar to the postmodern stylings of Beck 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 early single “Rock Hard,” and Kid Rock used the same song during Friday’s performance of opener “Devil Without a Cause.”
But those elements don’t make his music good. There are only so many ’70s riffs to knock off, so many power ballads to wail on and so many references to weed one can make.
The show had a few brighter spots, though, and they mostly came when Kid Rock opted for simplicity. “Bad Reputation” was a competent homage to Seger. “First Kiss” had me wondering how pop-punk lovers would receive the song if it were played in their preferred style.
And some of his early hits like “Bawitdaba” and “Cowboy” still retain guilty pleasure status.
But for every one of those there was a song there were performances of a dud like “Don’t Tell Me How to Live,” complete with a video that showed CNN anchor Anderson Cooper and a bald eagle flying over a glistening body of water.
Is Kid Rock, for all his success, really concerned about wearing a mask or whatever a news anchor said? Well, he just knows it will rile people up and sell more concert tickets.
Eric Heisig is a freelance writer in Cleveland. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org