Grandstand review: Kevin Costner struggles as vocalist in country rock concert

There’s an odd, unwritten pop culture rule that the public generally prefers entertainers stay in their own lane.

If you play football, you can’t also play baseball. If you’re a singer, you can’t be an actor. And if you’re an actor, you can’t be a singer.

That hasn’t stopped a whole bunch of actors from trying. Boomers in particular seem unafraid to foist their vanity projects on the public, including Russell Crowe, Kevin Bacon, Keanu Reeves, David Duchovny, Jeff Bridges, Hugh Laurie and Bruce Willis.

Yet another singing actor headlined the Minnesota State Fair Grandstand Friday night for a show billed as Music, Movie and a Conversation with Kevin Costner with special guest Modern West.

The evening opened with a (lengthy) clip reel of Costner’s various film roles that included a lot of tough-guy stuff, explosions and droning monologues. Then Costner and his band, Modern West, played an 85-minute set followed by 30 minutes of Q&A time with Costner and a screening of “Field of Dreams.” He drew a crowd of 3,584, with top ticket prices at $75.

Modern West turned out to be a pleasant surprise. They were rock solid and played with a professional expertise on par with any number of multi-platinum country acts. (Plus, band member Teddy Morgan is a Minnesota native and the only musician on stage whom Costner introduced to the crowd.)

Costner, on the other hand, isn’t much of a singer. There were glimmers of promise here and there that suggest a vocal coach could work wonders. (If he’s had professional training, that person should find a new line of work.) Mostly, though, he did a lot of talk singing that came across as flat and distant, much like his acting. He warmed up a bit by the end, but there were some cringeworthy moments, up to and including his attempt at a bit of a Dylan impression during “Hey Mr. Tambourine Man.”

As for his original songs, oof. Again, the band played them beautifully, but they came across as fifth-rate Eagles knockoffs with lyrics written by a random cliché generator. Indeed, the songs were as banal as their titles: “Long Hot Night,” “Chasing the Wind,” “Alive in the City,” “Long Way from Home” and so on.

To his credit, Costner was self-deprecating about his musical fame. He opened by thanking the women in the audience (who clearly adored him) for persuading their husbands to come. Twice, he said he was playing a new song but, really, everything was a new song for most of the people in attendance.

In the Q&A, Costner shared some rambling anecdotes about his various films, spoke several times about the deep meanings in his songs and revealed he has four or five dream projects, including a “Western saga.” Indeed, Costner loves making Westerns and “rolling in the dirt, shooting at the bad guys … the more raw it is, the more I love it.”

He said he was in a band in his 20s but was stung by the criticism he received and stopped playing music. Fifteen years ago, his second wife persuaded him to take it up again.

After a confusing story about the film “For Love of the Game,” Costner thanked the crowd once again and said, “See you at the movies!”

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