Ted Nugent - House of Blues, West Hollywood
Wed, 18 Jun 2008 - Paul Gargano
The Strip gets mauled
"If anyone out there is having more fun than I am, I want you to call me up and let me in on it... But I know there is nobody having more fun than I am, because I'm the only one in here with a guitar that sounds like this!" With that, Ted Nugent leaned back and ripped into "Cat Scratch Fever," the claw marks of his signature guitar licks digging deep enough to draw blood throughout the Sunset Strip House of Blues Sunday night.
But drawing blood was only the first half of Nugent's plan; the second half was a full-blown transfusion. While it seems that the outspoken icon draws more attention for his political riffing than he does for his under-appreciated guitar hero status as of late, Nugent melded the two masterfully in his 140-minute, 18-song performance. On the cusp of 60, he's still more amplified and energetic than any of today's up-and-comers. Far more talented, too. And he's wasn't afraid to remind us why.
"See, some bands still practice! Los Angeles, you deserve me!" Nugent boasted, beaming at his bandmates-bassist Greg Smith and former Dokken drummer Mick Brown rounded out the impeccably-tight trio-after a scorching scream through "Free For All," a note-for-note masterpiece that saw Uncle Ted grinding the guitar for results that blended George Clinton's funk with the soulful sizzle of James Brown.
Truth be told, Los Angeles does deserve Ted Nugent, but that's not necessarily something to be proud of. While a handful in attendance might have argued otherwise, there isn't a city more fitting of Nugent's biting social commentary, gripping musical history, and uncompromising cultural relevance than Hollywood. In the very shadows of the buildings where bands are signed based on MySpace friends and marketing gimmicks, Nugent demonstrated everything the sputtering music industry should be looking for in artists, and reminded us of everything that is lacking.
Performed in front of an apt cartoon caricature backdrop-Ted dressed as Uncle Sam, an NRA button on his chest and a lightning bolt in his hand-the set offered a jarring affirmation of Nugent's Motown roots and rock and roll pedigree, punctuated by his unyielding personality. Opening with an instrumental run through "The Star-Spangled Banner" (and later returning to our national anthem amidst closer "Great White Buffalo"), the tone was set early as Blues Brothers-soaked histrionics clashed head-on with guitar-driven heroics on the white hot "Wango Tango."
"I've been coming here since I was a small black child," screamed the Nuge before summoning the spirits of his rock and roll forefathers during "Stormtroopin'." And those spirits stuck around, with the trio of rockers not only paying homage to their heroes throughout the night, but channeling their very souls. "Don't forget Bo Diddley!" was Nugent's oft-repeated battle cry, and he made sure nobody at the House of Blues would, taking a detour through "Wang Dang Sweet Poontang" to revisit "Hey Bo Diddley!," Chuck Berry's "Johnny Be Good," the three Kings (B.B., Freddie and Albert) and Stevie Ray Vaughan.
"That's the coolest guitar lick in the world, isn't?" he coaxed the crowd after "Cat Scratch Fever," drawing their approval before cutting them off-"Bullshit! That's number two, this is number one..."-and unfurling the sexy magnificence and mystic trance of "Stranglehold." If there was ever a doubt that the song was one of the greatest six-string canons since the birth of Les Paul, it shattered into thin air at the House of Blues.
"I'm so sad Bo Diddley died, now I've got to do it all myself..." bemoaned Nugent more than once during the night's set. Not so fast there, Uncle Ted-I'm sure I'm not the only one that made more than one double-take during the night's set, absolutely certain that there couldn't possibly be only one guitarist on stage. Then I looked up at the ceiling in the balcony and saw the face of Freddie King on a panel looking down at me. And B.B. King. And Stevie Ray Vaughan... And dozens and dozens more of the unheralded names and faces that not only shaped rock and roll, but also built the House of Blues. And I knew that Ted Nugent wasn't doing it all by himself.
When you're that inspired, you'll never be alone. And once Uncle Ted turns you black, you may never be able to go back...