Kid Rock is possibly the most misunderstood performer in mainstream music.
Casual listeners write him off as a rap-rocker who burst onto the scene in the late 1990s. Turned off by that Limp Bizkit-era introduction, they ignore Rock’s transformation over the next decade into modern-day Bob Seger.
Country purists begrudge the fact that Kid Rock shows up on their awards shows and keeps enticing people like Martina McBride to sing on his albums.
But fans who have paid attention — the sort who filled a sold-out charity concert at the 999-capacity Knitting Factory in Boise — well, they understand the Kid.
And if you somehow didn’t grasp what makes Kid Rock special before he took the stage Sunday night, you definitely got it when you walked out 100 minutes later.
His most obvious gift? Compassion. Making one of the final stops on a 15-city “Care” tour, Rock spoke candidly about why he was playing in smaller venues, reconnecting with fans and raising nearly $400,000 for charities in the participating markets. (Here in Boise: Idaho Foodbank, Make-a-Wish Foundation and Keep Kids Warm will receive money.)
“It feels really good,” Rock, 40, told the audience. “You know what I’m talkin’ about?”
Was that a lump in Kid Rock’s throat? It sure seemed like it.
The rest of the night was pure hands-in-the-air bliss. Critics complain about the classic-rock riffs Kid Rock regularly splices into his songs. But their familiarity helps the music resonate with fans — and with Rock himself. In a sense, he’s a tribute act, a Midwestern blue-collar musician nodding reverently to those who came before him.
Borrowing the sledgehammer-heavy chord progression from Rush's prog-rock song “Tom Sawyer,” he flattened the crowd early with "Forever," a rap that succinctly explains his genre mixology: “I make Southern rock!” he roared, gyrating and clapping confidently. “And I mix it with the hip-hop! ... I’ll forever be the Kid Rock!”
He was shockingly convincing as a singer. Rock’s raspy vocals — influenced by his Detroit idol, Seger — were consistently solid during working-class singalongs such as "God Bless Saturday." Picking up an acoustic guitar, he delivered a smoldering, somehow mature version of his old-school hit “Cowboy.” Even when Rock acted less grown-up — “What the f---’s happened to the peace and love?” he sang on the groove-fueled “I Got One for Ya” — his positive message was loud and clear.
Crammed on stage, Rock's underrated backing band, Twisted Brown Trucker, punched in energetic guitar runs, soulful female backing vocals, saxophone and harmonica at all the right moments. (Kudos to the sound engineer, who turned an arena act into a killer-sounding bar band.) Rock joined his backing musicians for a loose jam session that had him singing Ted Nugent’s “Cat Scratch Fever” while simultaneously playing drums. He picked up an electric guitar and unleashed funky talkbox vocals. Rock also showcased his wicked DJ-scratching skills ... as he lit a cigar and sipped Jim Beam with his other hand. (The Kid is truly talented.)
By the time Rock’s three-song encore rolled around, the mood couldn’t have been more festive. Using riffs from Warren Zevon and Lynyrd Skynyrd during his hit song “All Summer Long,” Rock pumped up the volume yet another notch as confetti cannons showered the audience with color. When a gigantic American flag suddenly unfurled behind the stage for the final song, “Born Free,” patriotic pride permeated the party people. It was a strange blend of euphoria, catharsis and Red State passion. Love him or hate him (and there are few, if any, reasons for that), there’s nobody like Kid Rock.