Cincinnati -- Talk about the perfect bill on the perfect night. Kid Rock and old pal Sheryl Crow kicked off their summer tour on Saturday (July 2) in the Queen City with a three-hour marathon of Americana that had it all – fireworks, giant American flags, songs about lazy (mostly drunken) summer days and pontoon boats, multiple references to funny cigarettes, purple mountains majesty and, of course, a couple of Uncle Sam-loving strippers thrown in for good measure.
What better way is there to gear up for the 4th of July, right?
For the 15,500 at Riverbend Amphitheater, clearly there was nowhere else to be in the windup to patriotic weekend, despite oppressive heat and humidity that made goopy mascara run, sky-high hair droop and sweat to flow in torrents down a sea of butterfly-themed tramp stamps.
Swaggering out from underneath a titanic set of bull horns with glowing red eyes, a red-white and blue-decked Rock banged out "American Bad Ass" and "God Bless Saturday" in front of a rustic set that looked like a woodsy saloon in his native northern Michigan, complete with a stuffed bear wearing a dookie chain and a full-service, two-story bar with beer taps and bottles of Jim Beam lined up across the front. With a 10-piece band backing him, the rapper-turned-Bob-Segeresque heartland rocker quickly reminded fans of his roots with the Run-DMC-like "You Never Met a Motherf---er Quite Like Me," which got him so riled up he needed to take a minute to brush his hair and change hats before continuing the assault with "Cowboy."
Now, I've been going to shows for a long time now and while I can't recall ever seeing a stripper pole on stage, I've now seen a total of four over the past week at two different shows. So I was not surprised when a pair of poles popped up out of the floor and two exotic dancers materialized to shimmy as Rock put on a cowboy hat (a white one, if you can believe it) and told his tale of West Coast pimpin while flanked by two giant American flags.
With his hip-hop credentials firmly established, Mr. Rock n Roll Jesus himself took it down for a minute and sat at a piano for the sensitive new tune "Care," an arms-waving ballad about war and homelessness and stuff.
Okay, nobody came to a Kid Rock show for that, right? Which is why the following medley blew the roof off the dump, as the green lasers, towering bursts of flames and titanic mudslide guitar riffs poured out during "Somebody's Gotta Feel This/Fist of Rage/I am the Bullgod/Forever."
There were no first-night jitters, as Rock made use of his entire rustic set, pulling out a folding lawn chair and his bottle of Beam for "Flying High," a new tune about the sweet life, aka pontoon boats, cut off jeans, Johnny Cash, chillin', cold beers, $2 bottles of wine and, yes, "funny" cigarettes. Rock then treated the crowd to the hilarious unreleased birthday anthem "F**king Forty," an ode to his recent milestone and the fact that he's not as old as some other rockers (looking at you, Springsteen and the Stones).
The highlight of any Kid Rock show is the bit where he runs around playing a variety of instruments, and he didn't disappoint on Saturday, managing to pour a shot of Beam and light a cigar while scratching in time on the turntables, busting out a chicken scratch solo and a bit of ZZ Top on an electric guitar and sliding into fellow D-town legend Ted Nugent's "Cat Scratch Fever" while pounding the drums.
He might be f**kin' 40, but Rock clearly isn't ready to slow down, bringing out more strippers and beard-singeing flames for "So Hott" before inviting pal Crow out for a mini-set that included Stephen Stills' classic "Love the One You're With" and their smash "Picture," during which their chemistry and friendship shone through in knowing glances and a genuine embrace. "I saw your picture today and I sold it on eBay," Crow sang as a photo of a naked Rock holding his stones flashed on the screen and she joked, "you know a girl's gotta do what a girl's gotta do."
After Beavis and Butthead made a surprise cameo and dissed the headliner as "Kid 'Soft' Rock," Detroit's finest proved them wrong with one of the biggest, best showstoppers around, "Bawitdaba," a riot of red sirens, green lasers, showering sparks, ear-splitting explosions and shirtless stomping from the young-at-heart headliner.
By comparison, the encore was pretty mellow, with more tunes about sippin' whiskey and smoking "funny things" ("All Summer Long"), the disco ball-spinning ballad "Only God Knows Why" and flag-waving finale "Born Free," which Rock performed while standing on the piano as images of flags, waterfalls, the Grand Canyon, wild stallions, country roads, caddies with huge bull horns, crystal lakes and mountains majesty unfurled while red, white and blue sparks rained down from the ceiling.
Crow opened the show with an easy, breezy set of songs that smelled and tasted like a lazy summer afternoon. Maybe I was crazy from the heat (did I mention that it was really hot?), but every one of her signature tunes felt like an invitation to a beach party.
"Steve McQueen" was dedicated to Bob Ritchie (aka Kid Rock), because he "likes to drink beer," as Crow, wearing a bedazzled short skirt, grey tank top and cowboy boots, alternated between keyboard and guitar. She served up "All I Wanna Do," and who among Rock's fans couldn't cotton to the sentiment about loving a "good beer buzz early in the morning?" From the looks of nearly everyone in the pavilion, all of them.
And between the chugs of beer she took during "Every Day is a Winding Road" and the surf-themed "Soak up the Sun," you had to wonder why Crow, or Rock for that matter, would ever tour in the cold winter months again.