Kid Rock is nothing if not a showman. At times during his interesting career, you got the sense it was all about the music for the Detroit native. At other times, whether he was signing an iffy duet with Sheryl Crow or releasing last year's party anthem, "All Summer Long," it felt like it was all about just having fun.
And Sunday night's show was a little bit of both. In a Summerfest season that featured bands that could be considered light rock, nouveau country and '90s pop, Kid Rock closed out the Big Gig Sunday with, well, rock. Throw in some Southern cooking courtesy of Lynyrd Skynyrd (or what's left of it, anyway), as well as Kid Rock's own brand of twang, and Summerfest had a recipe for bad-ass fun.
I've seen Kid Rock once before, though I'd consider myself less of an afficiando and more of a casual fan. I saw him play at the "mystery" concert at Veteran's Park for Harley's 100th. As we all know, that mystery turned out to be Elton John, and over the course of several hours standing around and waiting, Kid Rock was the only thing that made that night even palatable. To his credit, I've always gotten the sense that Kid Rock has a great time on stage. Tonight was no exception.
Rock opened the show with a pyrotechnic display that resurfaced throughout the high-energy show. Fans got their money's worth tonight, too, as Rock paid tribute to everyone from the Rolling Stone to Metallica to ZZ Top to George Thorogood to "The Dukes of Hazzard."
I didn't know every song he played, but I did know the big ones: "All Summer Long," "Bawitdaba" and "My Name Is Kid," which he ended with and didn't play an encore.
Not every part of the show was rocking, though. He slowed it down with "Picture," and when one of his backup singers came out to sing Sheryl Crow's part, a big chunk of the crowd went berserk, thinking it was Crow, herself, making an appearance.
Rock interacted with and played to the audience, sounding genuinely appreciative of Milwaukee, its motorcycles and its beer. He thanked us for coming during these tough economic times and asked everyone to high five a neighbor. He then reminded us that "all the music is live. There are no tape recorders on stage. This isn't 'American Idol' bulls*t, this is American bad ass, baby." Funny stuff.
At the end of the show, Rock took his turn on piano, drums, guitar and the DJ table, scratching with one hand and pouring himself a drink then lighting a cigar with his other hand. Again, he knows how to put on a performance and the crowd simply lapped it up.
Skynyrd, who opened for Rock, was better than I expected. Mind you, if this was 1976, the Southern rockers would sell out the Amp -- or any other room -- in an instant. Now, either by death or by retirement, there's only one original member left, and I expected to see the world's greatest Skynyrd cover band. Somehow, though, with original guitarist Rickey Medlocke and Johnny Van Zant (brother of the late Ronnie Van Zant) singing, the show seemed as real as ever.
And, you've gotta give them credit -- they're still out there and working, even getting ready to put out a new album this fall. But tonight, they played essentially a greatest hits album worth of tunes, from "What's Your Name," to "That Smell" and "Gimme Three Steps." Van Zant got a little shmaltzy as the night went on, going on and on about how great America is (somewhat appropriate, I suppose, since it's Independence Day weekend), but I got chills when they played my favorite Skynyrd song, "Simple Man." They also dedicated a new song, "God and Guns" to late pianist, Billy Powell, who died earlier this year.
The final song before the encore was, unsurprinsgly, "Sweet Home Alabama." What was surprising was that they sounded a little slow and sloppy while playing it.
Everyone know what was coming for the encore, though I only heard seven people shout, "Play 'Freebird'" all night (yes, I was one of them). As promised, the group completely rocked it out with a backdrop memorializing its deceased bandmates. Unfortunately, less than ideal accoustics muddied up the guitar solos, but the crowd was completely whipped into a frenzy. It didn't hurt that the band pointed and waved to the crowd all night. Original members or not, it felt like watching a group of old friends perform.
Two really fun bands put on two really fun shows to close Summerfest on Sunday. I went into the Amphitheater with modest expectations but left quite pleased. Say what you want about the other Amp shows this year, but Kid Rock and Lynyrd Skynyrd were the perfect artists for this venue. I'd gladly see either if they pass through Milwaukee again.
Andy is the president, publisher and founder of OnMilwaukee. He returned to Milwaukee in 1996 after living on the East Coast for nine years, where he wrote for The Dallas Morning News Washington Bureau and worked in the White House Office of Communications. He was also Associate Editor of The GW Hatchet, his college newspaper at The George Washington University.
Before launching OnMilwaukee.com in 1998 at age 23, he worked in public relations for two Milwaukee firms, most of the time daydreaming about starting his own publication.
Hobbies include running when he finds the time, fixing the rust on his '75 MGB, mowing the lawn at his cottage in the Northwoods, and making an annual pilgrimage to Phoenix for Brewers Spring Training.