By Chyrisse Tabone, Rock At Night Tampa
Ted Nugent kicked off his Adios Mofo ‘23 tour in Immokalee, Florida, on July 12th. Like Peter Frampton, he announced the summer tour is his last. Since I was raised on 70s classic rock—and being from Metro Detroit—it was my duty to attend the Motor City madman’s concert in Tampa, Florida.
On Sunday, July 16th, the Seminole Hard Rock was filled with the odor of cigarette smoke and the clanking of slot machines as I made my way to the event center. There was a long line of Gen X’ers and Baby Boomers waiting to go through security and make their way to the merch table. With men outnumbering women, many were wearing concert t-shirts from past tours and “Nugent for President” shirts. The 1,500-seat auditorium, which has an intimate feel, filled up quickly. They may have rolled in on wheelchairs and still sported long hair (albeit receding and silver), but one thing for sure—they were there to rock.
Starting promptly at 8 o’clock, Oklahoma-based Hillbilly Vegas kicked off the “Steady At the Wheel,” which earned them immediate respect from the audience. The audience hungry for classic rock showed approval with plenty of cheers and whistles. Lead singer Steve Harris remarked, “I’m sweating up here like a whore in church!”
With a lot of member interplay and solid rock music, the band fed off the crowd’s energy. Harris commended the audience on their enthusiasm compared to the previous night’s performance saying, “Tampa needs to tell Daytona how to be loud. Next time you go to bike week, tell them to get their shit together.”
Highlights included “2 Gun Town,” which pays homage to law enforcement. Harris said the song reached Number 18 on Billboard’s chart, much to his surprise due to the nature of the song’s lyrics. He then thanked Ted Nugent for mentioning the band on social media (“social media exploded after the kind words from him”), the crowd’s enthusiasm (“the audience becomes part of our set”), and asked, “Are there any hillbillies out there?” After a roar of cheers, the band played the catchy, Southern rock tune, “Shake It Like a Hillbilly.”
Overall, Hillbilly Vegas was the perfect choice as a support band with their brand of no-nonsense rock and roll. With harmonies and a full sound (the guitar player even switched to the keyboard for a honkytonk touch), they appeal to fans of Blackberry Smoke and followers of “New Classic Rock.”
During the removal of the band’s equipment and the unveiling of the massive tower of speakers, “Journey to the Center of Your Mind,” from Nugent’s early band the Amboy Dukes, played in the background. Prominently displayed on the stage were two flags with a gun saying “I Will Not Comply.” A group of concert-goers gathered near the stage to pose for selfies.
At approximately 9:15 p.m., Nugent emerged through a thick cloud of white smoke, wearing khakis, a snake-print shirt, and a cowboy hat, performing his rendition of the “Star Spangled Banner.” Many rose to their feet. He breezed through “Gonzo” and “Storm Troopin” as the floor seat audience chose to stand through the entire show.
Known for his humor and rapid-fire banter, he spoke between songs about his guitar (“My guitar loves me. I’ve got the spirit in my fingernails”), his feelings about the state of the union (“Cluster Fuck 2023. How fucked up can the Uncle Sam pieces of shit get?”), and his assured he will still be performing (“Uncle Ted is still rockin’ his balls off”). He confirmed that the tour is his last (“Hotels are jail”) and dedicated “Wang Dang Sweet Poontang” to “all the girls.”
He switched guitars every few songs (“My guitars are breeding backstage”) and showed the energy level of a 30-year-old man. He was constantly moved about the stage and looked even more fit than last year’s performance. He appeared to have a glow of happiness, as he was clearly enjoying himself on stage and asked, “Can you feel the love?”
Performing with Nugent was bassist/singer Johnny Schoen, who had an impressive voice, and laid down the melody. Detroit drummer/backup singer Jason Hartless, who was working up a sweat, laid down the beat. Altogether, the trio sounded full and fleshed out.
There was fist-pumping and cell phones held high as Nugent sang “Come and Take It,” which morphed into the chant “Fuck Joe Biden.” He thanked the Hillbilly Vegas band for supporting the show and the audience saying, “You are the best people in the world if you are here with me because I’m a tough motherfucker.” A roar of cheers and whistles ensued while he dove into “Good Friends and a Bottle of Wine.” Between Nugent’s guitar tone and the melody, he truly took the audience on a harmonious journey.
A special evening moment was when he spoke of moving to Chicago in 1965 and starting the band Amboy Dukes. It turned out the Dukes’ original lead singer Bob Lehnert was in the room and would make a special appearance with the band to perform “Route 66.” Lehnert sang and performed on the harp (exceptionally well, I might add) while Nugent put out classic blues licks.
Nugent paid homage to the bow-hunting pioneer “Fred Bear,” while playing a tiger-striped guitar. The song resonated with a few men, who stood, raising their fists in victory and solidarity.
He switched out guitars (“Welcome Blackie! Blackie likes to play sexy guitar”) and had the whole audience dancing to “Cat Scratch Fever.” I believe the highlight of the evening was “Stranglehold,” with its bad-ass groove that sounded even better than ever. The raw energy on stage between Nugent, Hartless, and Schoen was electric—and will stay embedded in my mind for a long time. It took me back to my junior high days and I felt for a fleeting moment, young again.
While leaving the show, I conversed with a guy on the escalator. I asked, “So, what did you think of the show? Have you seen him before?”
The 57-year-old responded, “Well, this took me back to 1979 at the Tangerine Bowl with Aerosmith and Cheap Trick. I was 14 and was there with three girls! Nugent was swinging from a rope and playing guitar.”
There was no rope swinging tonight, but only solid rock and roll. That’s what it’s all about.
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