Performing a benefit concert with the Detroit Symphony Orchestra on Saturday night (May 12) at the Fox Theatre, according to Kid Rock, was “the best drunk move I ever made,” have received the call while he was enjoying some post-show libation backstage in Louisville during the spring of 2011.
On paper it certainly looked a little…screwy. The likes of “Bawitdaba,” “Devil Without a Cause” and “You Never Met a Mother****** Quite Like Me” hardly seem like orchestral fare, and the DSO has surely never before worked with vocalists who drop liberal F-bombs and sing about prostitute, pimps, drugs and debauchery. The orchestra may play Aaron Copland’s “Fanfare for the Common Man,” but the terrain of Rock’s song is little more, well, common in the rawest sense of the word.
And it’s highly unlikely any previous DSO guest has ever referred to music director Leonard Slatkin as “badass,” as Rock did on Saturday.
But the pairing, which raised $1 million for the DSO — still feeling the after-effects of a six-month 2010-11 musicians’ strike as well as a challenging economy in general — worked well. The two-hour and five-minute show, during which Rock and his Twisted Brown Trucker band performed 11 of his songs with the DSO as well as a three-song encore set on their own, added layers of orchestral bombast and spice to a repertoire more stylistically diverse than, say, Metallica’s “S&M” set list and proving that the orchestra could rock and that Rock’s songs, at least those played with the DSO, were sturdy enough to support a little bit of sophistication. Rob Mathes’ complementary arrangements gave the DSO a prominent place in the music without trying to upstage the songs, making a batch of familiar sound richer, fuller and fresher.
“I think the good idea is to let the audience hear the band rock and use the orchestra to enhance what the band is doing,” Mathes, whose voluminous credits include musical director for the Kennedy Center Honors, told Billboard.com. “I want to use the orchestra as another member of the band — albeit an extraordinary one — and let them shine in their glory at times but not just let them be this carpet over everything.” Mathes, who had worked with the DSO’s Slatkin on previous projects, studied a number of live tapes from concerts by Rock and his Twisted Brown Trucker band and also attended a concert in Tampa “so I could really write the orchestra to the way they play live, not just on record.”
Rock sported a tuxedo while Slatkin and the orchestra musicians donned his trademark black fedoras for the opening “Devil Without a Cause,” which included the late Joe C. rapping via tape about his 10-foot you-know-what while a scrim featuring his photo hung over the DSO. Rock changed garb quickly — “You didn’t really think I was wearing a tuxedo all night, did you?” he said — a ran through a repertoire during which the orchestra added bold, Mahler-esque stabs marked “Bawitdaba” and “Rock N Roll Jesus” and bulked up the main riffs of “You Never Met…,” “All Summer Long,” “Born Free” and “Cowboy,” with the latter mixing tastes of Americana fiddle flare with Gershwinesque grandeur. Mathes borrowed from Al Green’s Memphis soul on the ballad “Rock On,” while melodic counterpoints enriched “Purple Sky” (a favorite of Rock’s mom, which he dedicated to her for Mother’s Day) and “Picture.” The DSO also introduced songs such as pro-Detroit paean “Times Like These” and “Born Free” with specially created intros.
The DSO also played “opening act,” showcasing five of classical music’s “greatest hits” and earning a standing ovation for Rossini’s “Overture to William Tell” finale and arena-style chants of “DSO! DSO!” at the end of its set. Rock and Twisted Brown Trucker, meanwhile, finished the night with “Son of Detroit,” “Wasting Time” and the appropriate “God Bless Saturday.” The concert was recorded and filmed, though no determination has been made for a release yet.
The full Kid Rock/Detroit Symphony Orchestra set list:
Devil Without A Cause
You Never Met a Motherfucker Quite Like Me
All Summer Long
Times Like These
Rock N Roll Jesus
Son of Detroit
God Bless Saturday