Twelve years ago, I went on tour with Kid Rock for a few days during a summer almost as hot as he was at the time.
I traveled on a bus with drummer Stefanie Eulinberg, guitarists Kenny Olson and Jason Krause and miniature MC Joe C., who smoked as much pot as anyone I have ever been around — even during shows, he’d sneak behind a stack of amps for a few puffs.
And yet, the guy was still pretty cranky most of the time. (To be fair, he had health issues that limited his diet and eventually claimed his life a few months later, sadly.)
Joe C. was a neat freak who cleaned a lot and didn’t seem to like strangers on the bus — especially strangers with notepads and tape recorders.
This is understandable — on the road, the bus is a band’s home, a diesel-powered sanctuary, and no one enjoys unwanted guests walking into their living room and asking questions.
But, there I was, a 23-year-old journalist on the road for the first time, trying not be overwhelmed by it all, though what an overwhelming introduction it was: Metallica’s “Summer Sanitarium” stadium tour, with Kid Rock, Korn, Powerman 5000 and System of a Down opening the show.
Now, to completely ruin the mystique of something that doesn’t deserve any mystique to begin with: The backstage area at most shows is about as exciting as Yahtzee time in a nursing home library.
Unfortunately, there are seldom any half-naked groupies cavorting about, offering their bosoms from which to snort lines of designer drugs.
There are no kiddie pools full of Jagermeister; no cocaine dispensaries.
Instead, what you mostly find is a bunch of weary, road-worn musicians and their haggard-looking crew just trying to get through the tedium of the day — being on tour is like sitting in the waiting room at the dentist’s office for 10 hours at a time, nothing happens, you’re just biding your time.
And then it’s on to the next city to do it all over again.
It’s like “Groundhog Day” with guitars and suspect hygiene.
OK, got that mental image?
Now completely disregard it when it comes to this particular trek.
Metallica was at the height of its fame, and frontman James Hetfield had yet to get sober, so there was plenty of ego and excess in the air. (When the members of Metallica walked the venue halls, no one else was allowed to even be in their presence, you literally had to wait behind closed doors until they passed and their security dudes gave the OK.)
I first hooked up with the band at Atlanta’s Georgia Dome, and the first thing I remember is walking into one of their dressing areas and seeing what seemed like half the strippers in the city packed into this small, windowless room.
A warehouse full of computer chips contains less silicone than was present at that moment.
In each market, Kid Rock’s handlers went out and recruited exotic dancers to jiggle onstage during the band’s set, which also boasted a giant inflatable middle finger — you know, just to keep things classy, Ron Burgundy-style.
Some of these ladies would eventually find their way on to the bus, to, you know, talk about the merits of diplomacy versus unilateral displays of force in the Middle East and other pressing issues.
It really was the rock ‘n’ roll fantasy that Bad Company once sang of come to life — only, unlike that song, it didn’t suck.
For that, I’ve got to give Kid Rock credit.
His repertoire has long been posited on machismo, braggadocio and a complete lack of equivocation when it comes to both, and it only took a few hours in his band’s presence to see that they lived up to the talk.
Onstage, Kid Rock was a randy fireball, cocksure and in command, a debauched drill sergeant in a fedora and baggy pants.
Off it, well, he was just Robert Ritchie — Bob, as everyone called him — someone who was clearly in charge of the band, but still a relatable presence despite his stardom, which was reaching its zenith at the time, as he was still supporting his breakout 1998 disc, “Devil Without a Cause,” that mega-platinum gene splicing of Run DMC and AC/DC that would go on to sell more than 10 million copies.
Since those heady days, Kid Rock has continually tweaked his sound and aesthetic, going from rap rock to country rock to something akin to contemporary classic rock.
Perhaps his greatest talent, aside from being a musical chameleon, is his ability to seem like the prototypical Midwestern Everyman, the kind of guy who lives up to the cliche of being someone you want to have a beer with, while never actually being that person.
He’s the son of a successful car dealer and has never lived the kind of hardscrabble life that much of his blue-collar fan base knows far more intimately than he does.
But, none of that really matters, because like many a great rocker, Kid Rock’s selling dreams — never ending summers and Saturday nights, where the beer is cold and the girls are warm — not reality.
And like Dad, he’s a hell of a salesman.
Hey, I bought it.
Contact reporter Jason Bracelin at jbracelin@ reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0476.Preview
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