Kid Rock’s drift toward mainstream respectability made a significant surge on the opening night of his “Rebel Soul” tour Saturday at the Sprint Center. An audience of about 13,000 heard Rock ratchet down the volume and increase the subtleties of his extensive repertoire during a 140-minute performance.
The quietest moments of Saturday’s concert offered the greatest rewards. Rock’s poignant duet with Shannon Curfman on the forlorn honky-tonk ballad "Picture" was exquisite. He serenaded a fan with a lovely solo rendition of the Four Tops hit "I Can’t Help Myself (Sugar Pie Honey Bunch)." In spite of his limited voice — never much more than a muscular but monochromatic rasp — Rock has become a remarkably shrewd singer. The transformation enhanced the tasteful roots-based makeovers Rock’s dependable eleven-piece band gave to many of Saturday’s selections.
The tour’s opening night featured a few minor stumbles. Rock forgot the words during "God Bless Saturday" and occasionally became winded by his frequent sprints across the stage. The only time the concert hit a decided lull, however, occurred when Rock unnecessarily showcased his skills as a DJ, guitarist and drummer.
That misstep aside, Rock remains one of the most consistently entertaining showmen in popular music. He doesn’t rely on pyrotechnics. Even so, Saturday’s show featured an array of live video projections, lasers, confetti cannons and a balloon drop. Several elements of the deliberately kitschy presentation — including the gold lamé jackets the band sported during the second encore — seemed like an homage to Elvis Presley.
The unfurling of an enormous American flag during "Born Free" as Rock posed atop a piano was a bit overblown, even by Rock’s ham-fisted standards. The blatant product placements for a brand of whiskey and a motorcycle company seemed similarly intrusive.
The most telling moment of the concert involved one of those sponsors. Rock gingerly rolled to the center of the stage astride an enormous motorcycle during the opening strains of the unrepentantly juvenile "Bawitdaba." The caution he demonstrated doesn’t mean that Rock is growing soft. He’s simply growing up. Saturday’s surprisingly sublime concert indicated that his newfound maturity suits him.
Two contrasting aspects of Rock’s music were showcased by the evening’s opening acts. Buckcherry played an hour of sleazy rock in the tradition of Guns N’ Roses and Mötley Crüe. "Lit Up" and "Crazy B*tch," the manic California act’s biggest hits, are about cocaine and rough sex. Even the ballad "Sorry" was accelerated by the adrenaline-fueled buzz-saw voice of charismatic front man Josh Todd. Hellbound Glory, a quintet from Reno, opened the show with thirty minutes of satisfying outlaw country in the tradition of Waylon Jennings.