Monday, June 29, 2009

Music review: Skynyrd, Kid Rock show energizes the faithful

Lynyrd Skynyrd on stage Friday night at the Cruzan.
(Photo by Thom Smith)

By Thom Smith

Limos and pickup trucks. Harleys and Hondas. High heels and flip-flops. Halter tops and tattoos. Beer and booze. City and country.

Yessir, a little bit of everything could be found among the more than 18,000 fans who converged on Cruzan Amphitheatre on a muggy Friday night to worship at the musical altars of Lynyrd Skynyrd and Kid Rock.

“Let's turn it into a Saturday!” Skynyrd lead singer Johnny Van Zant urged after an underenthusiastic audience response to That Smell. Aided in part by the overload of watts pushing through the amps, the audience found new energy as the band blasted through I Know a Little.

Spawned 45 years ago in Jacksonville as The Noble Five, Skynyrd, if anything, has been durable despite having Tragedy as a middle name. Only guitarist Gary Rossington remains from that original collaboration. Original lead singer Ronnie Van Zant, guitarist Steve Gaines and his sister and backup singer Cassie died in a 1977 plane crash that also injured Rossington and the other band members. Skynyrd disbanded, but their music continued to score and survivors continued
to perform.

A decade after the crash, the band reformed, with Ronnie's little brother Johnny taking over the singing duties. New members came and went; others died; but while lesser souls might have capitulated, Skynyrd played on.

In 2006 the Rock 'n' Roll Hall of Fame took them in, but the band isn't content to collect pensions. It continues to tour and Sept. 29 will release its first album in six years, Gods and Guns. The audience got a taste of it on a rocking Still Unbroken, followed by a rousing Breeze. As the flag motif alternated between stars and stripes and stars and bars, the hits poured forth.

“It's a great honor to start out in our home state,” Van Zant declared after Sweet Home Alabama and then granted the audience its final wish with the perennial rock concert war cry, Free Bird.

The beer crowd needed the break. Indeed the lines into the men's rooms were uncharacteristically longer than those for the women's.

Kid Rock, flanked by giant video shots of himself,
sings Friday night at the Cruzan.
(Photo by Thom Smith)

Kid Rock may be from Detroit, but his sentiments aren't much different from Skynyrd's – an appreciation of the working man who just wants to do his job and have a good time. The Kid was born into privilege, but he isn't tone-deaf to the sensibilities of his low-budget fans. He speaks their language, although rougher than Skynyrd: Many titles and more lyrics are better left to Internet sites and word of mouth. Curiously, many Skynyrd fans left after their band's set – their loss, but that's called loyalty – but they'll hear more of The Kid.

Actually, he's hardly a kid. Robert James Ritchie is 38 and struggled in anonymity for 10 years before attracting any real attention. He started as a rapper, but as his career has progressed, he's gone from scratching platters and sampling others' music to singing, playing guitar, piano and drums and, perhaps most significantly, writing original music.

Will The Kid's dark genius become a legitimate voice? Perhaps some day the Hall of Fame will answer. Whatever he does, it'll be on his terms. You didn't hear him (or Skynyrd) noting the death of Michael Jackson from the stage.

Kid Rock arrived like the man in the moon, backlit by a spotlight on a full curtain that dropped to reveal a huge U.S. flag between two video screens. After Rock 'n' Roll Jesus, he asked if the crowd liked rap, country, R&B, rock, or “Do you like music?”

In Son of Detroit, he declared (in the printable lyrics),

I like 2 cuss, yell, scream, fight And raise all kinds of hell. And if you ride to live like I live to ride, Then let me hear that rebel yell. I'm a redneck rock-n-roll son of Detroit.

then sampled a little of the Stones' Tumbling Dice, then his own Cocky, saluting Skynyrd in All Summer Long with its classic Sweet Home Alabama intro and a new flag backdrop.

“This ain't no American Idol B.S. This is American music badass,” he shrieked defiantly, and giving the show a tent revival feel, ripped through Amen and followed with hints of Sly Stone's Everyday People and then Cowboy -- “I'm Kid Rock and I'm the real McCoy” -- Blue Jeans and a Rosary and One More Time. Drummer Stefanie Eulinberg added some humorous counterpoint to Kid Rock on Half Your Age, but backup singer Stacey Wagner was not up to Sheryl Crow on Picture.

Winding down, at 10:40, he finally found a turntable, poured himself a drink and lit up a blunt. Then he ran off some ZZ Top chords on guitar followed by some Peter Frampton talk box action and some drumming on Cat Scratch Fever (an homage to Detroit soulmate Ted Nugent); a Satisfaction riff from the Stones; So Hott -- “I want to get you alone, I want you so stoned.” Not until 10:53 did the shirt come off. Bawitdaba: “I said it's all good and it's all in fun,” he proclaimed.

Eleven o'clock. Time to go. Like clockwork. No encore. No complaints.

Thom Smith is a freelance writer based in South Florida.

An air guitarist in the audience
plays along with Lynyrd Skynyrd.

(Photo by Thom Smith)

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