Ted Nugent plays guitar, stokes resentments
CLEARWATER -- Apart from a boisterous few, the crowd nearly filling Ruth Eckerd Hall on Saturday to see rocker Ted Nugent seemed remarkably calm, even a little sedate at first. Many were regulars, their loyalty praised by Nugent, who has been passing through for decades.
Some wore American flag shirts, flag bandanas or even flag pants, the couture matching two flags on the stage and a gigantic flag backdrop that appeared as Nugent appeared in the fog, playing the National Anthem. Nugent loves America, a fact he underscored repeatedly over two very fast-paced hours.
A volunteer deputy Lake County, Mich., he can't thank law enforcement enough, and also gave separate shoutouts to each branch of the military, drawing raised fists and cheers. Anything that didn't fit directly into patriotism, such as the soul and rhythm-and-blues of his Detroit heritage, he lumped into an ongoing admonition to "never forget where you come from," which is still America.
His concert revealed a few things about him, things most people already know but which become more crystallized watching him work. First, Nugent is a showman who leads his fans through stages of euphoria. After a few introductory numbers, which like all the others involved lengthy guitar solos, he asked the crowd, "Did you miss me?"
A roar of assent came back, and Nugent was ready to shift into second gear. He played with relentless energy -- and, it must be said, all of the skill that has distinguished him for 50 years -- segueing into a tribute to Bo Diddley, Howlin' Wolf, James Brown and others, the "black founding fathers" of rock and roll. Bass player and part-time vocalist Greg Smith and drummer Jason Hartless more than stepped up when called upon.
Nugent told the crowd about his hunting, of which he is an outspoken advocate. He said he sends venison to American troops.
"When the U.S. military gets it, they kill more a--holes," Nugent said. "I don't like repeat offenders, I like dead offenders!"
More cheers. Nugent used the same derogatory term to say that if you are not making such people mad at you, you are just as bad as they are.
"For example," he said, "the president and Hillary hate me."
The audience loved this. Nugent performed a fine cover of Johnny B. Goode. A moment later, he was back to the main theme, the text of his multi-part sermon his audiences come to hear as much as the music. This time he was moving from his habit of touring in the summer months, a habit learned early, to his father's lesson that he needed to work if he wanted to eat.
To avoid dashing out a lot more words, I will translate. Nugent said he disliked people who don't earn their own keep. They make their families weak by depending on others, and they are equivalent to excrement. It is better to be a valiant person (as he put it, a s---kicker), like the American revolutionaries. He asked if we remembered 1776, and how the American revolutionaries reacted when the British tried to take our guns away.
"So maybe next time somebody comes to take our guns, we should shoot the (bad individuals) dead!"
Hundreds of immediate shouts and cheers. Nugent shifted into a song, Stormtroopin'.
Get ready. Stormtroopers comin'/Comin' up that street, jackboots steppin' high./Got to make a stand./Looking in your windows and listen to your phone./Keep a gun in your hand.
From time to time, he explains that his primary motivation is love, and these are all "love songs." Meaning, he loves the Constitution and the Bill of Rights. And working hard, and playing lots of concerts back to back.
He downshifted into a song about his spirit guide who is with him when he is hunting. The crowd, which had mostly sat down after the first hour or so, jumped back on their feet with Cat Scratch Fever, complete with the rock star non-ending ending, at least eight of them before the song really ended. Whatever that's called.
Nugent invoked America again and freedom, mostly by shouting the word "freedom" repeatedly.
Times such as this tempted me to reconsider the impression I had been forming throughout that he was never a madman at all, but a clever impresario who knows how to play a character -- in this case, the character "Ted Nugent," and pretty much say anything to keep people watching -- or if Nugent really is playing with something short of a full 52. I decide to stick with my original impression, that it's all too choreographed, too organized, for that. But he made this impression a struggle, and I am not sure I'm right.
The concert was winding down, the flurry of fireworks before the show is over. After the last frantic flurry of guitar runs, Nugent faced the crowd to deliver his coup de grace.
"Stand up for what you believe in, America," he said. "Let's take back our country Nov. 8. Take it back from that America-hating piece of s---, the president!"
Nugent walked offstage. The crowd chanted.
"USA, USA, USA."