Kid Rock has made no secret of his mix-and-match sensibility, the one where he takes the punk rock and the Southern rock, and mixes them with the hip-hop.
But he’s never done it quite like this.
On his new Rock and Roll Revival Tour, Rock is proudly brandishing his wide-ranging tastes. Less a Kid Rock concert than a classic revue, the show enlists the services of pals such as rapper Rev. Run of Run-D.M.C., vocalist Peter Wolf of the J. Geils Band and Southern rock guitarist Dickey Betts, formerly of the Allman Brothers Band.
Set lists have been fluid during the tour, which features each of the guests in their own mini-sets, joined by Rock and his expanded Twisted Brown Trucker Band, now sporting a horn section introduced to fans during last fall’s run of club dates.
It might be an old-school concept - the Detroit star says he was inspired by the eclectic road shows that dominated rock’s early days - but in 2008, it’s a new sort of approach. And it’s one that’s custom-made for the iPod era.
“It’s so rare these days to see something fresh and new,” says Rock. “I got so bored with the same old thing. This day and age in music, unless you’re a little kid, you don’t see people listening to the same music all the time. It’s the age of playlists. I’d daresay nobody over 25 has just one single playlist they listen to.”
Rev. Run, a longtime friend, was first aboard, having dropped strong hints that he’d love to hit the road. As the tour came together late last year, Wolf got his call from Rock; the two had been introduced years ago by late Atlantic Records chief Ahmet Ertegun. Then came Betts, linked to Rock via the latter’s ever-growing Nashville connections.
Wolf is a particularly special treat for audiences where his J. Geils Band was a massively popular mainstay in the 1970s.
“It’s kind of an interesting thing: He goes out and does his thing, and then he invites each of the guests out to be backed by his band,” Wolf told his hometown Boston Phoenix newspaper. “In this very corporatized world of rock `n’ roll, he’s into giving the audience their money’s worth, so there’s a similarity there with the Geils Band, even if the styles of music are very different.”
Indeed, feeding his own musical needs wasn’t the only motivator for Rock. In a time when many concert fans are feeling a sharp economic pinch, he says, ramping up his show to offer more bang for the buck was a natural move. During the tour’s opening stretch last month, he was particularly struck while visiting Rust Belt cities such as Dayton, Ohio, where evidence of the shaky economy “was just sad.”
Seats top out at $45 for dates with Rock, an artist who has long been heralded in the industry for his price-conscious ticketing.
“I think this way - especially with this economy the way it is - everybody wins,” he says, adding with typically confident aplomb: “You’re not going to get a better show for the money, anywhere.”
But maintaining low prices while adding artists to his lineup left Rock and his team with a decision: Something had to get trimmed. For this round of dates, that means none of the pyrotechnic effects or onstage dancers that have traditionally marked his arena shows. Rock says that by the time he gets to the tour’s summer leg, he hopes to find a balance, maintaining the new special-guest approach while reintegrating some of the old frills.
“The ultimate show for the ultimate fair price,” he says. “That’s what I’ve been looking forward to for the future, where everything I’ve done gets tied together.”
That future could be interesting for Kid Rock. With two albums remaining on his Atlantic Records contract - a standard record and a greatest-hits compilation - he’s looking ahead to a day when he can toy around with new ways of making music.
Rock says his timing has been lucky: His deal with Atlantic, signed 11 years ago and renegotiated after the success of 1998’s “Devil Without a Cause,” allowed him to break through during a time when selling records was still a viable career path - before the Internet sent the music industry scrambling for a new direction.
“I got in right at the end of it all. I couldn’t imagine being a new act these days,” he says. “And I’ll be getting out of my contract at the right time because it seems like it’s going to be three or four years before this all gets figured out.”
Rock’s own set will feature plenty of songs from his recent No. 1 album, “Rock and Roll Jesus ” - material that he says is clicking with audiences quicker than new stuff he has previously presented onstage.
But Rock figures that with his multi-artist revue, he has potentially struck upon a concept that he can ride well into the future, with an ever-evolving series of live shows, albums and video releases.
“Run pulled me over after the first show, he recalls, and said, `I understand it now - you’re making sure you can do this forever.’”