Ted Nugent and his newly expanded four-headed monster of a band took the House of Blues in Cleveland by force last night (Aug. 4), with original singer and rhythm guitarist Derek St. Holmes returning to the fold and helping the Motor City Madman re-state his case as one of the best live rock 'n' roll performers of his or any other generation.

We'll admit, we were a little bit nervous about any changes to the supremely fine-tuned power trio lineup Ted's been touring with for the last few years, even if it was to bring back the original voice of 'Stranglehold' and 'Hey Baby.' Well, silly us for not trusting 'Uncle Ted' without reservation.

St. Holmes fit in perfectly with Nugent's "Funk Brothers," bassist Greg Smith and drummer Mick Brown, showed that his voice is still in fantastic shape, and provided solid rhythm guitar support that freed Nugent up to add extra dramatic flourishes to songs like 'Just What the Doctor Ordered.'

Still, let's make no mistake about exactly who's show this was. "The Nuge" is quite simply a force of nature, leading his dexterous band with repeated jaw-dropping displays of furious, seemingly half-improvised and somehow tasteful guitar exploration. It's really remarkable; he plays roughly the same dozen songs in concert year after year, but breathes enough new life into them each time so they never sound stale or over-rehearsed.

Nugent repeated the secret ingredient to his sound many times through the night: "What kind of music is this? Soul music! No s---!" He repeatedly gave shout-outs to Chuck Berry, James Brown and Wilson Pickett, and did his heroes proud by never letting the pyrotechnics get in the way of the almighty and ever-present grooves that make songs like set-opener 'Free for All' so powerful.

He's also without a doubt of of the best talkers in the game, stating unequivocally that he and his band were the last men standing, that he'd keep bringing his music to the people because he didn't trust anybody else to do it, and that if there were one band he'd want to go see, it'd be... himself. He did mention his political views a couple of times, but less than say, Bono or Bruce Springsteen are known to do.

Actually, in a nice and possibly (ehh.. doubtfully) symbolic change, Nugent was surrounded by a wall of guitars rather than guns on stage this time out. Any conversation we have about the Nuge is always gonna start and end with his music. He's a living legend with two fistfuls of forever-classic songs to his credit, and he puts on, without a doubt, one of the most energetic, skilled and rousing live performances you're ever going to see. Miss him when he comes to town at your own peril.

Ted Nugent


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