Review: Costner makes rock ‘n’ roll look easy
ASPEN – Forget the ranch in Aspen, the hot young wife, the fawning fans. When I become a movie star, the first thing I’m getting myself is a good rock ‘n’ roll band.Kevin Costner made the transition from film actor to rocker look insanely easy, and a lot of fun, Friday night at Belly Up. Get a tight band behind you (in Costner’s case, Modern West, a sextet he put together four years ago) and an eager crowd in front of you (at Belly Up it was largely female, 50-ish, and dressed up), and there’s not much else you need to do.But those in attendance to hear the music, rather than be able to tell their friends that Costner looks exactly like he does in the movies, are certain to have noticed that there was much more behind Costner’s rock act. Thoughts of William Shatner – the quintessential actor-turned-awful singer – were gone the instant Costner & Modern West started playing their brand of meat-and-potatoes country rock; midway through the set, the comparisons coming to mind were of Tom Petty and Colorado’s Big Head Todd & the Monsters. (Costner’s guitar-playing is not on the level of “Big Head” Todd Park Mohr. Costner is strictly a straightahead, on-the-beat strummer.)As a frontman, Costner is as charismatic as he needs to be. For most audience members, it was probably sufficient that he seemed likable and down to earth. He told some stories about the songs – including “The Sun Will Rise Again,” about the myth of American self-sufficiency – smiled plenty and spread out his arms with a “Come on, let’s loosen up” invitation.Where the show excelled was in the songs – virtually all originals – and the performance of them. The first few tunes seemed on the safe side, and I prepared myself for a night of ordinary music. Costner’s voice was good enough; the band was well-rehearsed. But when they swung into the first slower tempo of the set, the thoughtful country ballad “Down in Nogales,” something seemed to shift. The next number, the romantic “Maria Nay,” brought things back to a rock pace, but with a new energy. By the time Modern West hit the night’s drinking song, “Saturday,” Costner and company had hit their stride.On Modern West’s debut CD, “Untold Truths,” the songs come out overproduced, most of the grit polished away. On the stage, it returned, much to the benefit of the music. Toward the end of the set they even braved a new song that Costner speculated might have been under-rehearsed; it came off fine. The show ended with an encore of Bob Dylan’s “Mr. Tambourine Man.” Costner noted that when the Byrds recorded their hit version of the tune, they whittled away most of the verses. Costner sang them all, one-upping the Byrds.I was left wanting one thing: more of Modern West. Costner says that the group is a communal project, and that point would be made better if members like John Coinman – a singer-songwriter whose relationship with Costner goes back 25 years – got a turn on lead vocals. The player who did get the spotlight was fiddler Bobby Yang, a former Aspen Music School student with significant roots in town. Costner could well have yielded the microphone for a few songs to give a more well-rounded night of music. He had demonstrated that his musical abilities were no firstname.lastname@example.org
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