There was a tender moment during Monday's Kid Rock show at Ruth Eckerd Hall: As the Motor City rap-rocker recited a touching rendition of America, the Beautiful, four bethonged exotic dancers behind him continued to writhe - patriotically, of course - on their golden strippers' poles.
Oh lordy. To paraphrase the man himself, the classy Clearwater venue ain't never met a blankety-blank quite like Kid, who busted eardrums for more than two hours of metallic riffs, street-smart rhymes and Southern-fried hooks - all on a three-tiered red-draped stage that looked like a high-tech cathouse.
Despite a convoy of evidence to the contrary - including becoming the latest celeb to get caught canoodling on a "sex tape," parts of which were released on the Internet last week - the man born Bob Ritchie is one savvy son of a gun.
After all, the Detroit star is the rare artist who can woo a hip-hop crowd all while saluting the Ramones, John Lennon and, egads, the Confederate flag.
Plus, despite the fact that his best work was released eight years ago, Kid has maintained career momentum by dating hot stars (Pamela Anderson), buddying with legit talents (Sheryl Crow) and hanging out in marketing-savvy locales (NASCAR races).
All of this is why his sold-out show at Ruth Eckerd, in front of 1,988 fans, had the feeling of a big gig. Especially since Rock is gearing up for another high-profile push: On Feb. 28, the 35-year-old star releases the album Live Trucker, the cover of which is a newsmaking homage to Motor City icon Bob Seger's 1976 classic Live Bullet. See how that works? New tour, new album, new sex tape: Like I said, the Kid is a killer salesman - pants on or off.
He's also one heck of a live spectacle, blending old Vegas schtick (taking turns on guitar, banjo, drums, keyboards, turntables - like Wayne Newton with a mullet) and new Vegas sin (strippers, plumes of pyrotechnics, a wardrobe consisting of a floor-length fur "pimp" coat over a black Nashville-style suit).
When he wasn't boasting about his own greatness - with help from his metal-trained six-piece band, he unloaded pounding rap-rock hybrids Son of Detroit and Devil Without a Cause early in the set - he was trying darn hard to show how crowd-pleasing he can be, covering AC/DC, ZZ Top and two snippets of Lynyrd Skynyrd: Sweet Home Alabama and Freebird. Through it all, his fans went absolutely bonkers.
Kid Rock's best cuts remain the genre-spanning hellraisers that stuffed 1998 multiplatinum album Devil Without a Cause, most of which he saved for a series of encores. The urban-outlaw assault of signature tune Cowboy had everyone in-house - including some wee kids who hopefully had earplugs - stomping and shouting like a fight was about to break out.
My favorite moment, however, came during the 18-wheeler ballad Only God Knows Why. Not because the rendition was all that great, although Kid does get credit for slowly rising onto the stage seated behind a gold baby grand.
But because in this day and age when concertgoers soullessly light their cellphones during swoony moments, Kid Rock's fans still risk singeing their fingers by flicking their Bics. Honest-to-goodness flames, folks. That's old-school right there. And that's cool with me.
Sean Daly can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (727)
893-8467. His blog is at www.sptimes.com/blogs/popmusic.