It's no longer just a concept, no longer a mere construction site: Little Caesars Arena has been officially inaugurated as a concert venue.
In a reliably rambunctious, sometimes defiant show Tuesday night for a sellout crowd, Kid Rock gave the arena is first extended roof-rattling in a two-hour performance tinged with politics. The concert — first of six for the Michigan-born star — launched a new chapter for concertgoing in metro Detroit as the downtown pizzarena inherits the role long held by venues such as the Palace of Auburn Hills.
LCA's first real test seemed to go smoothly, as thousands streamed in with few delays and the pristine $863 million facility got its first spilled beers and wafts of weed. Fans had overwhelmingly positive reviews for a venue that is an experience unto itself, applauding the quick entry, handsome aesthetics, roomy concourses and relatively short lines distributed among seemingly countless concessions areas.
By the time the big day arrived, Kid Rock's show had become more than a mere kickoff event. With Rock thrust into the national political conversation by teasing a U.S. Senate run (which got no new clarity Tuesday night), the celebratory spirit inside was preceded by heated but peaceful demonstrations on nearby streets.
Up to 200 protesters marched and decried Rock's support of President Donald Trump, his previous association with the Confederate flag and his selection as LCA's first act — some characterizing the Romeo-raised star as an outsider.
Buy Photo Ron Machus of Cold Water, right and Tyler John Malone of Carbondale take a photograph in front of Little Caesars Arena before attending the Kid Rock concert in Detroit on Tuesday, Sept. 12, 2017. Romain Blanquart, Detroit Free PressBuy Photo Amy Blake of Livonia proudly shows her Kid Rock T-shirt on Woodward Ave. before his performance at the Little Caesars Arena in Detroit on Tuesday Sept. 12, 2017. Ryan Garza, Detroit Free PressBuy Photo A woman wears her airbrushed Kid Rock jacket while walking toward Little Caesars Arena in Detroit on Tuesday Sept. 12, 2017. Ryan Garza, Detroit Free PressBuy Photo People arrive for the Kid Rock concert at Little Caesars Arena in Detroit on Tuesday, Sept. 12, 2017. Romain Blanquart, Detroit Free PressBuy Photo Security to enter the Kid Rock concert at Little Caesars Arena in Detroit on Tuesday, Sept. 12, 2017. Romain Blanquart, Detroit Free Press
Onstage, Rock later referenced the demonstrators ("they can protest deez nuts") while thanking Detroit police outside.
Protesters had been greeted by raised middle fingers and cries of "go home" from some arriving Kid Rock fans, who cheered as a convoy of black-clad bikers roared up Woodward Avenue in a loud act of counter-protest.
All in all, fans seemed to take the backlash in stride, more eager to get through the gates, take in the new arena, and soak up a show they'd been awaiting since January — Rock's first in the Detroit area since 2015.
Early in the set, he reprised a segment premiered last week in Grand Rapids, delivered this time with a bit less raw fire in his voice: Marching onstage to the strains of "Hail to the Chief," he served up an edgy, profanity-laced "stump speech" that knocked "the redistribution of wealth," "deadbeat dads" and "those who take a knee or sit during our 'Star-Spangled Banner.'" He also spewed venom at "Nazis ... bigots ... and the KKK."
Kid Rock gives a speech behind a "United States of 'Merica" podium during his performance at Little Caesars Arena in Detroit on Tuesday, Sept. 12, 2017. His appearance was met by dozens of protesters from a civil rights group. (Tanya Moutzalias/The Ann Arbor News-MLive.com Detroit via AP) (Photo: Tanya Moutzalias, AP)
Tuesday, the rhyming speech got a new verse addressing transgender bathroom controversies.
"Things shouldn't be so complicated, and no, you don't need to choose," Rock said. "Because whatever you have between your legs should determine the bathroom that you use."
Late in the evening, he rattled off a series of thank-yous, paying tribute to workers who built and staff LCA, the Ilitch family, and "the City of Detroit and its taxpayers for their investment in our great city."
Rock brought a show that’s been significantly overhauled since his full-scale tour in 2015.
One of the most significant twists came early on, when Rock kicked off with the sort of jubilant, explosive bang most artists save for the end: With pyro blasting and colorful streamers pouring onto the crowd, the stage filled with an array of circus characters — stilt walkers, fire breathers, jugglers — while Rock and his band charged through the new “Greatest Show on Earth.”
After those breathless few minutes, Rock gave the crowd a quick "Thank you, good night," emptying the stage as the arena darkened and the audience roared. The next two hours, in other words, functioned like one long encore.
At one point, he described the new show as "some kind of twisted musical" as he revamped song arrangements and threw a couple of curve balls. Several new cover tunes were inserted into the set — Rod Stewart's "Maggie May," Loggins and Messina's "Your Mama Don't Dance," Sly Stone's "Dance to the Music," the last performed by Rock's Twisted Brown Trucker band.
The show also included new nods back to his early career, including an illuminated “KID ROCK” sign akin to the one that was a fixture at his local shows in the ‘90s. At one point, he took a ribbing from DJ Paradime for his shift from hip-hop obsessed young man to middle-aged country-rocker. Rock left the stage and ditched his overalls for vintage rap gear — Adidas sneakers, gold chain, tracksuit — as he dove into 1998's “Welcome 2 the Party."
During his 2015 tour, Rock had begun poking fun at his ability to keep up physically with the high-intensity performances that once accompanied songs like “Bawitdaba.” On this latest outing, the 46-year-old has enlisted a pair of female dancers with a prominent role in the production, providing much of the athletic energy once supplied by Rock.
Kid Rock performs at Little Caesars Arena in Detroit on Tuesday night, Sept. 12, 2017. in Detroit on Tuesday, Sept. 12, 2017. His appearance was met by dozens of protesters from a civil rights group. (Tanya Moutzalias/The Ann Arbor News-MLive.com Detroit via AP) (Photo: Tanya Moutzalias, AP)
Editor's note: The Free Press purchased tickets – its usual policy – to cover the Kid Rock show at Little Caesars Arena on Tuesday night, and used wire service photos for its images.
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