Though he's 39, Ted Nugent's ample store of animal spirit remains undiminished and is unencumbered by the slightest intrusion of wit or taste.
Thursday night at the Celebrity Theatre in Anaheim, the heavy-rock guitarist was the same bounding, cackling, foul-mouthed Visigoth he was at his commercial peak a decade ago, when he was still enough of a draw to headline arenas. (He was also scheduled to play the Santa Monica Civic on Friday.)
Nugent's music was pretty much in character: slam-bam heavy rockers built mostly on predatory riffs. With a little self-control, he could have turned the show into a pulsing, if monolithic, evening of crunching rock. But Nugent played as if he had a production quota to meet with his guitar, sidetracking songs with prolonged, whining solos.
The only thing worse than Ted Nugent behaving in character proved to be Ted Nugent stepping out of character. On "Spread Your Wings," from his new album, "If You Can't Lick 'Em . . . Lick 'Em," Nugent tried to emulate the lyricism of Jimi Hendrix's sublime "Little Wing." But barbarians don't make poets and aren't likely to weave, as Hendrix did, a vision of love that encompasses the soul. Nugent's playing on the piece was thick, clumsy and grating.
The late '80s have turned into prime times for some hard rockers who were big in the '70s, with the resuscitated Aerosmith the most recent comeback example. Nugent, whose record sales have fallen since his platinum streak in the late '70s, is going to have to come up with more than the same old wildman routine if he expects to walk that way again.