Absence doesn't always make the heart grow softer. After a nine-year hiatus from the road, Chris Rock is back with his anger issues far from being managed. Whew. In the first of three nights at the Orpheum Theatre, the 52-year-old comic reminded the sold-out audience what it had been missing for nearly a decade: one of the sharpest, most polished performers of his generation.

But this return comes with a twist.

After a well-received surprise set by Hannibal Buress, Rock marched onto the stage and stayed in motion for 90 minutes, tearing through new material that shared much of the same DNA as the monologues that earned him four Emmys, three Grammys and the chance to host the Oscars twice. He still has a knack for making sense out of gasp-inducing suggestions, like punching your black son in the face every morning, requiring gun owners to have a mortgage and taking it easy on school bullies.

"You need bullies," said Rock, dressed all in black, commanding the room as if he'd never left stand-up. "Pressure makes diamonds. Hugs don't."

But about halfway through the set, Rock segued into territory he rarely dared to enter in the past. He got personal. The comic took a break from lecturing America and took a moment to scold himself. He admitted that his recent divorce was, in part, due to him being a bad husband. He cheated. Three times. He almost lost custody of his kids.

His admission of infidelity did draw some hisses, but overall, most of the room got eerily quiet every time Rock got personal. In fact, one wonders if there's a willingness to share even more. As abruptly as he would step into the confessional booth, he would scoot out just as fast, reverting back into the sassy lecturer who insists that men and women try to be better to each other — rather than dwell too much on how he screwed things up himself.

Perhaps he'll share more as the tour progresses. He's only a month in, and there are still kinks to be worked out. There were occasional moments where he stumbled on his lines and a bit on his quest to "find God before he finds me" seemed more forced than inspired. There was also an abrupt ending, a bit of a letdown when compared to Rock's vintage finales that justified his signature mike drops.

A little more fire, a little less rust, and Rock could easily reclaim the throne as the King of Comedy. He's already awfully close.

njustin@startribune.com 612-673-7431 Twitter: @nealjustin