JAM Magazine Concert Reviews

April 5, 2012
Music Center at Strathmore
North Bethesda, MD USA
Review by Craig Hunter Ross
Photos by Craig Hunter Ross

Kevin Costner & Modern West

In the 1992 movie The Bodyguard, Kevin Costner portrays a former secret service agent named Frank Farmer, who is hired to protect a music star (portrayed by Whitney Houston) from an unknown stalker. There is a scene in the film where Costner’s character is approached by an admiring redhead who is in attendance at an evening formal.

Redhead: "I've been watching you all night from across the room."

Frank Farmer: Good, why don't you go back over there, and keep watchin'."

While millions have enjoyed watching the two-time Academy Award winning actor / director on the silver screen, the man considered the largest box office draw in the 1980s and 90s has spent the past several years seeking to attract a different crowd - listeners.

It was in 2007 that Kevin Costner & Modern West began their musical journey. Having reconnected with old band mates guitarist John Coinman and bass player Blair Forward a couple of years earlier, the three musicians set about creating a sound that had a distinct country rock flavor to it. They then surrounded themselves with a stellar cast of players to help them better interpret their musical visions. With the aid of drummer Larry Cobb, lead guitarist Teddy Morgan and vocalist / guitarist Park Chisolm, Costner achieved just that. Bobby Yang further fleshed out the sound of the music with his superb work on the violin.

For the past several years, Costner and Modern West have travelled across the globe performing to crowds in Europe, Asia, South America and North America. This evening, the Music Center at Strathmore in N. Bethesda, Maryland would be the fifth stop on a brief two-week tour. Following a stellar performance by Nashville singer/songwriter Sara Beck (who would later return to join the band for several songs), Costner and Modern West took the stage.

The show began with the upbeat and hard rocking "Red River," which had the audience immediately on their feet dancing. After the first number, Costner welcomed everyone to tonight’s festivities, and made sure to thank the crowd for 'watching all those movies.’ He went on to explain that all the music the band would be performing was original material from the band’s catalog of three albums.

Like many of the actor’s most popular movies, the lyrics in each song had a distinct story line woven into it. Throughout the evening, Costner would take a few minutes to explain the meanings behind several of his songs. The explanations helped personalize several tunes including "Long Hot Night", which talks about the mistakes men make with women. There was "Top Down" which described the thrill of riding down the road in a convertible. "Hero" touched upon a subject that’s near and dear to Costner’s heart, the military.

The thespian’s love of history was also evident in several numbers the band performed. A highlight of the evening saw Sara Beck return to the stage. She joined the band to perform several songs from the History Channel mini-series Hatfields & McCoys, which Costner just happened to star in, as well as contribute significantly to its soundtrack. Beck’s haunting vocals on "I Know These Hills" sent a chill through the audience. Images of the bloody feud, from the point of view of the women involved, sent a strong message that wasn’t lost on this crowd.

The set wrapped up with "Hey Man", a song similar to John Cougar Mellencamp’s "Pink Houses" in its tempo and chord progressions. The tune had numerous ladies bringing roses and flowers to the edge of the stage as Costner and Modern West departed. The band soon returned for a two song encore, the first of which was the group’s new single "The Angels Came Down". Written with the hopes of bringing a measure of comfort to military families that have lost loved ones, "Angels" has appropriately been selected to be played at upcoming memorial services at Fort Knox. Wanting to end the show on a happy, not somber note, Modern West closed the evening with "Superman 14." It was a tune about growing up in small town America during a time where kids put baseball cards in the spokes of their bikes, and boys wore superhero capes made of bath towels.

For decades, from Bull Durham through No Way Out, The Untouchables, Dances With Wolves, Field of Dreams, Robin Hood and JFK, Costner played his roles straight from the heart. His music comes from the same place as well. If you have any doubts about his sincerity, those questions are put to rest watching him perform on stage. It’s no act on his part that lurking behind those green eyes lay some real hidden musical talent. That said, at this stage of his life, Kevin Costner may very well have found the perfect role.