REVIEW: Nugent drops love grenade on Essex
By Brent Hallenbeck
Free Press Staff Writer
ESSEX JUNCTION -- Even before he came on stage Friday night at the Champlain Valley Fair, Ted Nugent made an appearance on a silk-screened backdrop that depicted him as a crazed Uncle Sam with lightning bolts shooting out of his fist.
It was a cartoonish image, appropriate considering the larger-than-life cartoon figure the veteran hard-rocker always has been. The aggressively avid hunter really is a modern Uncle Sam -- or Uncle Ted, as he asked the crowd to call him -- who advocates for freedom, war and the defense of our American rights (the Second Amendment in particular) in terms that excite his loyal fans and, as he clearly intends, offend the more sensitive ears of others.
Oh, yeah, and he rocks, too. He's almost 60 years old and said he still rocks hard because he's lived a clean, sober life, though he admits to "gettin' high on venison." Oh, deer.
He came out dressed in black except for an earth-toned cowboy hat, and he and his leather-tight band Nugent on guitar, Greg Smith on bass and Mick Brown on drums kicked into a Hendrix-like version of "The Star-Spangled Banner." They plowed through a couple of Nugent's most familiar tunes, including the rapid-rocker "Wango Tango" and the churning "Free-For-All," which helped make Nugent a head-banging favorite in the late 1970s and early '80s.
He tipped his cap repeatedly to his hometown of Detroit, and his set revealed the influences he soaked up there. Nugent's music reflects the all-American-ness of Bob Seger, the sleaze of Iggy and the Stooges, the sonic boom of the MC5 and even the lyrical and melodic simplicity of Motown. Berry Gordy, though, never produced a song that goes, "I'm a love grenade and I'm about to explode."
At times it seemed the music was little more than a break between the loquacious Nugent's provocative statements, sometimes complimentary, sometimes vitriolic. For example:
- "All the boys and girls get a free machine gun. I think it's the right thing to do. Say, 'Thank you, Uncle Ted,'" he said, waving a couple of weapons in the air.
- "We think Howard Dean is a piece of (bad word deleted), a real (bad word deleted,)" he said, following that up with praise for "real Vermonters."
- The next time an animal-rights activist gives him grief, he said, he'll kill 200 deer just for the heck of it.
- "Detroit is the murder capital not because we're violent, but because we're better damn shots."
- "Unless you hunt or fish or trap you are not an environmentalist."
- He's prone to self-aggrandizement, introducing his best-known song, "Cat Scratch Fever," as having the "number-one guitar lick in the history of the world."
Self-aggrandizement and button-pushing are big with Nugent, but he's also a classic showman. Who else would come out in a bright Indian headdress for his encore, "Great White Buffalo"?
He made one more Nugentian statement as he left the stage. "Have the greatest hunting season of your life," he yelled to his cheering fans.
Before the testosterone and verbal images of splattered deer guts, the opening act was a petite young woman from Nugent's home state of Michigan named Alex Winston. There aren't a lot of hard-rocking women out there these days, especially sexy guitar-wielding women who come to play with a big voice and mounds of energy.
She also had catchy songs and a solid band behind her. Do they still make rock stars? If so, she might be one.
Contact Brent Hallenbeck at 660-1844 or firstname.lastname@example.org.