CONCERT REVIEW: Pretty close to the ‘Best Night Ever’

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First Posted: 7/8/2013

Kid Rock and his cohorts are promising the “Best Night Ever” for 20 bucks this summer, and while last Saturday’s concert at the Toyota Pavilion at Montage Mountain may not have lived up to such a lofty goal, it still provided lots of bang for the buck and was one of the most exciting shows to hit the mountain in a long, long time.

The more than three hours of music got started around 6:45 p.m. with a 30-minute set by Uncle Kracker, Kid Rock’s protégé and former DJ. The man born Matthew Shafer sang all of his hits, such as “Follow Me” and “Smile,” plus a new one called “Blue Skies” from his latest album, “Midnight Special.” His blend of rock, R&B, rap and country – sort of like his one-time boss, but with less edge – was pleasant enough, but his version of “When The Sun Goes Down” noticeably lacked Kenny Chesney (Kracker was the “featured artist” on Chesney’s No. 1 song from 2004) and his big remake of “Drift Away” was a lot less soulful without the late, great Dobie Gray.

Up next was Kool & The Gang, the funky hit makers from the 1970s and 1980s. While it may seem a bit incongruous that the R&B legends are on the same bill with Kid Rock, the 10-piece band did a fine job in whipping the crowd into a frenzy, getting them more than ready for the headliner to come.

Beginning with “Fresh,” Kool and company were on from the moment they hit the stage and kept getting better as the 55-minute set continued, inevitably ending with a super-charged version of “Celebration.”

The three-song set of ‘70s favorites – “Funky Stuff,” “Jungle Boogie” and “Hollywood Swinging” – tore up the middle part of the show, highlighting the Gang’s crack three-piece horn section. The band then followed with three tunes from its ‘80s heyday – “Ladies’ Night” (complete with a tasty bass solo from original member Robert “Kool” Bell), “Get Down On It” and “Celebration” to really get the party swinging.

After a video countdown of 15 minutes and a prayer from behind a huge banner that turned a $20 bill into a nifty piece of Kid Rock swag, the now 42-year-old Kid, decked out in a red T-shirt, a black hat with a red band, and dark shades, finally took the stage around 9:15.

Storming out with “Devil Without a Cause,” the title track of his 11-times platinum 1998 album that introduced the man to the masses, the Kid was hot from the get-go.

The Detroit-born rocker formerly known as Robert James Ritchie does not make it easy for reviewers unfamiliar with his oeuvre – he drops his stage name into his songs more than anyone this side of Jerry Lee Lewis – but the super-sized crowd at the Scranton amphitheater loved every minute of it, heartily singing along with every mostly expletive-laced word. About the only surprise was that it took eight songs before he got around to “God Bless Saturday.”

His 11-piece Twisted Brown Trucker band deftly backed him on his popular hybrid of rock, hip hop and country, with Shannon Kurfman, wearing a glow-in-the-dark black T-shirt emblazoned with “Detroit City,” ably filling in for Sheryl Crow (or Allison Moorer) on the ballad “Picture.”

Thanks to some state-of-the-art technology, Kid Rock was able to sing his new duet “Redneck Paradise” with Hank Williams Jr. on the big video screen, and his 1999 single “Cowboy,” which started with Kid Rock noodling on an electric piano, was met with a massive response.

The main set ended with swaggering versions of “Rock N Roll Jesus” and “Born Free,” and the first song of his two-song encore, a stripped-down version of his wildly-popular mash up of “Sweet Home Alabama” and “Werewolves of London” called “All Summer Long,” took on more of a “Sympathy for the Devil” feel with its five percussionists.

Before his final numbers, Kid Rock thanked his tour sponsors Harley Davidson and Jim Beam for helping him keep the costs low; every seat being sold for $20 no doubt helps the size of the crowd.

But he sounded humble when he said, “No matter what you paid to get in here, I want to thank you for spending your hard-earned money to come see us play.”