Think of Kid Rock as a butterfly. It may not be the first analogy that springs to mind when talking about a man dressed like a pimp who shops at Wal-Mart, but at this late stage in the artist's development, it's an apt one.
Rock has spent the last few years trying to transform himself into something new, and it's not been an easy task. He's done such a good job establishing himself as a sleazy white-boy rapper that he may never fully shake that image. (Tuesday night, it wasn't clear he entirely wanted to.)
Largely shunned by both the hip-hop and the rock worlds, Rock has always been a marginalized misfit, or rather a caricature of one, sporting Skynyrd-length hair, Motorhead sunglasses and glittery bling. He acquired the ultimate bad-boy accessory by marrying (but later divorcing) Pamela Anderson.
For a while, Rock seemed happy in his rap-rock cocoon, turning out novelty singles such as "Cowboy" and the nonsensical "Bawitdaba." But then came "Picture," a late-blooming single buried on his 2001 album "Cocky." A country-style duet with Sheryl Crow, "Picture" became a cross-platform smash, perfect for Top 40 and lite radio. Suddenly, Rock - the same guy whose posse once included a midget rapper named Joe C. - was demanding to be taken seriously.
But was this really a good idea? Time will tell: Rock's concert coincided with that day's release of "Rock N Roll Jesus" (Atlantic). Despite the gimmicky title, it's another big step toward Rock's new incarnation as a heartland rocker. It features only one song that qualifies as rap (a crude stomper called "Sugar") while the rest are Southern rock spin-offs, Nashville-style blowouts and straightforward ballads.
Joined by his Twisted Brown Trucker band, Rock tried to spread his wings in several directions Tuesday. Much of the two-hour show concentrated on early rap-rock tracks such as "Devil Without a Cause" and new send-ups such as "All Summer Long," which swipes the piano riff from Warren Zevon's "Werewolves of London." These were the moments that revealed the secret of Rock's magic: Though he's barely competent as a rapper, a singer or a dancer, his party-hearty charisma is undeniable.
Rock was less appealing when he tried on the mantle of sincerity. The small-town narrative of "When U Love Someone" forced Rock to compete on Bon Jovi's turf - a losing battle - and the hand-on-heart anthem "Amen" turned him into a disingenuous flag-waver. Bar stool ballads like these require a kind of poetry that Rock hasn't yet mastered. He was better when pumping his fist in the air during the new track "So Hott."
The crowd called for an encore by chanting insults aimed at Tommy Lee, the M"tley Crüe drummer who recently brawled with Rock (both men have Ms. Anderson in their pasts). He reappeared and played a new song that brags of life after marriage called "Half Your Age." (It features the punch line, "and twice as hot.") Clearly, Rock hasn't developed fully enough to fly away from his reputation.
KID ROCK. The rap-rocker changes his tune. Tuesday at The Fillmore New York at Irving Plaza, Manhattan.