Ted Nugent At BB King’s On Tuesday, August 8th, 2017, Reviewed
It isn’t a sin to be poor and it isn’t a sin to be white, and it isn’t a sin to be ugly, but it is a sin to be an obese, stylistic horror show. The problem with the “shitkickers” bussed in from Jersey to BB Kings last night was not poverty (to be perfectly frank, they wouldn’t be there if they were on welfare) or their politics for that matter, but how godawful tasteless they look, with long ratty hair, huge tee shirts with the legend “No Gun No Glory” on the back, covering mounds of fat over baggy jeans. As glam taught us way back when, you don’t need money to dress cool. Just because you support your President you don’t have to dress like him, being poor is no excuse for looking like an extra in an attack of the zombie hillbillies directed by Dylan Mars Greenberg. Me, I looked resplendent in my black jeans, black boots and black and yellow Future “Nobody Safe” tour tee shirt. Getting through the most stringent security I’ve ever seen at Bb Kings, I was told I had to check my bag, with a very pretty young woman of color, who eyeballed my tee and raised an eyebrow, “gonna party with the deplorables” I explained, though Kristin Diab had it down even more accurately as she declaimed “(Nugent) can riff a guitar with the same gusto he can blast a buck with a rifle”. I arrived in time to see opening band, heavy metal kid Derek Day. He performed a harmless half hour with a louded up “Benny And The Jets” just in case we were instagramming and needed a tug. “We just drove from LA, so please buy our merchandize so we can get gas to drive back.” Well, no, but enjoy the namecheck.
Ted Nugent came on stage to “Street Fighting Man”. Yeah, I know, but he had something on his mind, which he made clearer with a litany of rock stars a little later on, from Chuck Berry to BB King (who the young Nugent performed with in 1968). With his beloved Gibson Byrdland, the heart of the matter is defined by the music and nothing else on stage. Musically, the man is sound as houses and vastly more entertaining than, say, Joe Bonamassa. This isn’t modern sound, no pro-tools, no computers or synths or 808s,it comes down to electric guitars and bass scraping your ears and shredding out loud, if you dig that, you’ll dig this. Me? I’m indifferent.
However, “Nothing but shitkickers here tonight. We Got all the shitkickers.” This seemed to please Nugent and it should because if the definition of shitkickers is “an unsophisticated or oafish person, especially one from a rural area,” he probably did have em all. Man, that was one ugly audience. They looked as though they were stopping at BB Kings on their way to the methadone clinic. “Don’t ever let them paint you blue, you are some red state shit kicking mother fuckers,” Ted Nugent claimed. It might be true but what Nugent cares about and what his audience cares about mostly coincides politically. A ten minute piece of guitar white noise instrumental segueing from “The Star Spangled Banner” to “Gonzo” quieted the audience at the very beginning as Uncle Ted claimed “You love this shit, don’t you?” and when the music remained the music, he had a point… to a degree… This isn’t heavy metalCORE, it isn’t hair metal, it is a piercing, finger blasted heavy metal, ramping everything up to a fine ear piercing point while Ted, wearing a wireless mic, worked the tiny stage. If Kid Rock is Southern rap and roll, Ted is bloody minded metal fetishisms with everything in the music at service to some form of getting yer yayas out. Neither good nor bad as such, it was an old school mediocre rabble rousing for over 50 half wits, which includes me to a lesser or greater degree.
“My Grandkids aren’t like me, they are really wonderful and warm people…” Ted mentions as if to excuse himself as a Red State aberration, though the man is of course a motor city fella and Detroit is kinda up against the wall, motherfuckers. The 69 year old Nugent first came to nyc back in 1967 with the Amboy Dukes and while he claims he has friends here, he packed out but didn’t sell out BB Kings and he really should have. He really should be able to, the man can BB King one moment and Eddie Hazell the next, he is a real musician with an energetic attack and a white heat precision with his trio (together only two years), the set doesn’t fear, it is a straight arrow electric noise guitar through the heart of BB Kings, disrupting only for a couple of lead vocals from his bassist and overlong state of the state of MAGA aberrations and personal worst wrapping up the audience in Semper Fi bullshit.
When discussing music, or playing or singing, Ted is pretty good, with a funny line in aggro, “I was gonna play a country song but I still have a dick so I can’t do that,” he sneered before launching into a terrific “Wang Dang Sweet Poontang,” Ted has serious concerns and they are reflected not through his lyrics, or his insistence in having a soulful time, or in groove, which he understands perfectly, but through who he is. “Even my mom and dad were alcoholics,” he told Jason Landry (here). “I couldn’t beat them up, but I could pray for them and beg for them to stop; but people have to make those decisions themselves.” Beg them to stop, right? They didn’t, so Ted saved himself. This insistence on self-reliance because the people who should have taken care of you didn’t, this contempt for the welfare state, is at the heart of both Ted’s conservatism and his brutality. To hunt deer about as often as you play guitar is insane: “My family and I kill so many deer every year that we eat the most natural, organic, meat… and if you have a problem with that, go fuck yourself.” Tony Heiberg had this to say about weeding out the herd: “deer populations could be held in check by restoring their natural predators to their rightful place in the environment.” I would add that whether you eat meat or not, to get pleasure in watching animals die is sick, plain and simple. I can’t stand to watch an ant die.
But to a Nugent there is a connection between his childhood raised by extremely dysfunctional parents and that form of chaos, in response to which Nugent became very precise (like his hero Donald Trump, he neither drinks nor takes drugs), very controlled in his skills on the guitar, he practised and practised and practised and the result, at the age of 69 years old, is a man who can play a fine guitar, a skilled noise merchant who sees himself in a linage of guitarists from BB King and Hendrix to John Mayer. That has nothing no to with his hunting jones as such. What does is that the skills to kill with a bow and arrow, and not just the strings analogy, goes to the heart of his self-sufficiency, his arrogance, and his cruelty. As does his disparagement of former President Obama or love for current POTUS Trump, neither of which makes Nugent a racist as such. I also don’t believe his audience are all racists (certainly, some of them are), neither do I believe my own natural constituents, liberal New Yorkers, are class snobs, but I do believe nobody listens and that the reason for Trump was Obama’s inability to get decent paying jobs back to the Blue States after the great recession of 2008, where so many of these ballooning mortgaged families lost their jobs and their houses in one fell swoop and never got them back. When I noted to friends that I was going to see Nugent they couldn’t understand it but there are two great reasons.
1 – I wanted to hear him play
2 – I wanted to hear what people whose opinions I differed with had to say. My fellow Americans are not my enemies even if their fashion sense is awful.
Ted is a good guitarist and he puts on a good show, his attack was intense and single minded and if in his words he kowtowed to his audience, his music did not at all: it was driven guitar pyrotechnics, he has a great tone and he has speed and agility st 69, when he should be losing it. He shared his stage with just two people and they performed with discipline. By the encore, Amboy Dukes “The Great White Buffalo,” my main regret was that Nugent isn’t a very good song writer and became a bore, when the music isn’t clocking in the politics are an irritant. Still, what can a poor boy raised on Berry with bad parents and no money do?