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Music Review

Rebels make Saturday night so special

By Jonathan Perry
Globe Correspondent / August 25, 2008
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MANSFIELD - Rebel flags and Run DMC. Southern rock royalty and hip-hop history. Slide guitar solos and turntable scratching. Confederate ghosts and Compton toasts.

Saturday evening's Rock & Rebels Tour double bill of Lynyrd Skynyrd and Kid Rock made for a double-dose boilermaker of high spirits and lowlifes - 30 years of motley musical traditions that shot all the way from Jacksonville and Detroit to New York City and Boston.

Improbable as it may have seemed, the pairing worked wonderfully well and even made strange sense, thanks in large part to Kid Rock's all-inclusive, junkyard jumble of hip-hop, hard rock, outlaw country, and gospel-tinged testifying.

During his 90-minute coheadlining set, the Michigan-born rapper-singer threw in everything but the kitchen sink, and then threw that in, too. Call him a trailer park Beck without the sense of duty to irony or good taste.

Backed by an 11-piece band, Rock rapped his way through a crass catalog of mostly unprintable observations on the three essential party food groups: sex, drugs, rock 'n' roll.

But amid the escape-fantasy aggregation of pimps, playas, and prostitutes who populate Kid Rock's toxic tales, there were also calls for tolerance and unity (the acoustic gospel anthem, "Amen," for one) that befitted a white artist so indebted to African-American music.

As if to underscore that point - and have one hell of a party while doing so - Rock brought out Run DMC's Rev Run for torrid miniset duets on Run DMC's "It's Like That" and a scorching cover of Aerosmith's "Walk This Way." Then, to keep the Boston theme going, out came ex-J. Geils Band frontman Peter Wolf to dance and trade verses with Rock on "Centerfold." Along the way, we also got the nasty bravado of "Cocky," a lethally salacious "Cowboy," and a fistful of bling from Rock's latest album, "Rock N Roll Jesus," including "All Summer Long," whose melody borrows Skynyrd's "Sweet Home Alabama."

It thus made sense when Kid brought out Skynyrd's lone original members - guitarist Gary Rossington and pianist Billy Powell - to replicate their parts live.

Performing live is one thing Skynyrd has perfected.

Of course, the band was all but destroyed in a fatal plane crash in 1977 that claimed four people, including lead singer Ronnie Van Zant.

But it's been 21 years since a reformed lineup, featuring Ronnie's younger brother Johnny on vocals, returned to the road to play classics like "Sweet Home Alabama," "What's Your Name," and, of course, the flicked-lighter (now lighted cellphone) epic, "Free Bird."

During its 75-minute coheadlining set in the second slot, Skynyrd played those and more with the kind of fiery precision that comes from years spent refining a clutch of classics that rivals those of just about any American rock band.

Johnny Van Zant's voice didn't have the wounded poignancy or preternaturally aged swagger of his older brother, but it got the job done, and the songs across.

Skynyrd's three-guitar frontline attack was intact, and made for an orgy of swapped leads on numbers like the swamp boogie of "Gimme Three Steps" and the haunted epic "That Smell." Both were cautionary tales from a band whose music was always more complex than its self-styled redneck image suggested. Lynyrd Skynyrd and Kid Rock, rednecks and rap: a Saturday night special, indeed.

Rock & Rebels Tour

With Kid Rock and Lynyrd Skynyrd

At: Comcast Center, Saturday

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