- The Washington Times - Thursday, May 9, 2002

It's only appropriate that the summer concert season should kick off Saturday with Kid Rock (Bob Ritchie) at the George Mason University Patriot Center. After all, he's one of the few arena-level rock acts out there that isn't staging a comeback tour or is part of a larger show, such as Ozzfest.

"I'll go head-to-head with any other act out there right now," Mr. Ritchie, 31, boasts from on the road. "It's an amazing show. Your jaw will hit the floor."

Kid Rock's success didn't happen overnight. He released his first album back in 1990, "Grits Sandwiches for Breakfast," an unsuccessful record that owed a great deal to the Beastie Boys' style. His label, Jive Records, dropped him soon after, and he made two independent albums before his 1998 breakthrough, "Devil Without a Cause."

With heavy MTV play and three hit singles ("Bawitdaba," "Cowboy" and "Only God Knows Why"), Kid Rock went from nobody to instant celebrity and helped turn rap-rock from a novelty into a real trend. He even went back into the studio and reworked much of his earlier material for "The History of Rock" in 2000, which also added a few new songs.

What may surprise fans (and critics) of the rap-metal rocker, though, is the country-blues turn he's taken on his follow-up released in November, "Cocky."

"On the first record, I was in the basement with all my gear, writing songs, just like I'm sure every other musician out there does," he says. "This time I was writing on the road, writing new songs at sound check with the band, writing stuff on the bus with an acoustic guitar."

Songs like "Picture," a gentle duet with Sheryl Crow, and "Midnight Train to Memphis" could almost make a country station's playlist, should a program director consider playing Kid Rock. The idea might not be too far-fetched; Mr. Ritchie's appearance with close friend Hank Williams Jr. on Country Music Television's "Crossroads" program gained some of the show's highest ratings.

"I wanted to branch out as artist, rather than get locked into something that I think is just a fad," Mr. Ritchie says. "Look at the Beatles or the Stones, they did country-blues and were still rock."

Lest fans be scared away by the new Rock, there are still plenty of hard rap-rock numbers, such as "Cocky" and the first single "Forever," with its chorus of "I make Southern rock/and I mix it with the hip-hop/got money like Fort Knox/I'll forever be the Kid Rock."

For a man who has gone platinum 10 times and dates Pamela Anderson, cockiness seems somewhat justifiable.

"I love the whole record," Mr. Ritchie says. "It's much better songwriting. I think it'll be hard to top."

•••

Consider it Detroit Invasion Week in the District. Besides that city's rap-rock king Kid Rock, cult rocker Brendan Benson brings his pop-rock to the Black Cat on Wednesday. Fans of the White Stripes might recognize Mr. Benson, as his band opened up for that group on its recent tour stop here in April.

Like Kid Rock, Mr. Benson parted ways with his record company (Virgin) after his 1996 debut, "One Mississippi," didn't take off. The one thing going for him, though, was a devoted fan base and rave press reviews, including a recent piece in Esquire magazine that named the album a "lost masterpiece."

With those kinds of expectations, it's no wonder it took five years for a proper follow-up album, "Lapalco." The record, released in February, features more of his trademark sound: catchy choruses, world-weary vocals and plenty of fuzzy guitars. As anyone who saw him here last month can attest, his show is far heavier (and more punk rock) than the album, with plenty of distortion, shouted lyrics and energy.

"With the record coming out, I didn't know if anyone would care or even remember me, but people are excited," Mr. Benson notes in his press materials. "I know cult artist is just a euphemism for a guy who doesn't sell very many records, but that's fine."

•••

Sleater-Kinney is a bit too mainstream to be considered a cult group (Time magazine named it the United States' best rock band in 2000), but the rock trio of Corin Tucker, Carrie Brownstein and Janet Weiss has kept a low profile during the past year.

That's about to change with its first tour dates since a hiatus last year and an album due out in the fall, its first since "All Hands on the Bad One" in 2000.

That record, its fifth, showed the group focusing more on melody and harmony while still playing harder and faster than a lot of other punk bands out there.

"People have told us the new stuff is weird, and that's a compliment to us," Carrie Brownstein told the Olympian, of Olympia, Wash., in March. "The last thing you want to hear is that they sound like your old ones."

Fans should hope to hear some of those new songs when the trio opens for Belle and Sebastian at DAR Constitution Hall Wednesday.


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