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I’ll admit: when I heard Kevin Costner’s band was coming to Strathmore, I volunteered for the assignment for the sole purpose of making fun of Kevin Costner. I had never actually heard Kevin Costner’s band. It’s unfair, I know. But neither had most of my fellow concertgoers. Based on a handful of conversations with them, it seems that lingering crushes from Bull Durham were the bigger draw.
Now that I’ve seen him perform, I can say with a clean conscience: He’s pretty bad. Not that the audience seemed to mind. Costner may be 57 and sporting a graying soul patch, but on Thursday, he proved he could still beguile the gaggle of women who flocked to the stage to throw him flowers and notes, some with their husbands in tow.
But let’s not get carried away. He’s not atrocious. As celebrity vanity bands go, the modestly named Kevin Costner and Modern West is about average (see below). He’s backed by some capable musicians, including guitarists John Coinman and Teddy Morgan. Modern West is billed as a country band, but it’s country only in the sense that they sing about being drunk and heartbroken a lot. Their music, written mostly by Coinman, is really just bland but inoffensive boomer rock. They owe a lot to Tom Petty, which is to say they have all of Petty’s cheesiness and none of his hooks.
Costner is nominally the lead vocalist, although he does a kind of half-singing, half-talking mumble, and when he really sings he’s not always in tune. It’s unclear at first why his band needs four guitarists (not including the bassist) until you notice Costner mostly uses his instrument as an armrest. When he does play, one of the other three guitarists is usually playing his part along with him, and louder. The rest of the time Costner’s either pointing and grinning, or doing a Jesus pose, arms outstretched.
“I can’t separate my music from my movies. A lot of these songs were written on the set of my movies or inspired by them,” said the two-time Oscar and six-time Razzie winner, leaving you wondering if that’s a good thing or a bad thing. But Costner’s heart is in the right place, notably an homage to Native Americans (“500 Nations”) and several songs paying tribute to veterans, even if he seemed to be confused as to what PTSD stands for (“post-disorder stress,” he called it, before asking fans to correct him). It doesn’t seem right to disparage a marginally talented but generally compassionate guy who just wants to sing about hard lovin’ women and America. It could be better. But it could also be worse.
BONUS: Celebrity vanity bands ranked by suckage
Juliette and the Licks
Celebrity: Juliette Lewis Suck-o-meter: 2.5 Why does it suck: They were actually pretty good Redeeming quality: Dave Grohl on Four on the Floor; Juliette’s a decent singer
Kevin Costner and Modern West
Celebrity: Kevin Costner Suck-o-meter: 5.0 Why does it suck: Generic, boring boomer rock Redeeming quality: Violinist Bobby Yang’s honky tonk strut
The Bacon Brothers
Celebrity: Kevin Bacon Suck-o-meter: 6.0 Why does it suck: “Sha-la-la, sha-la-la-la-la I’m in love with a Jersey Girl” Redeeming quality: This video
Celebrity: Keanu Reeves Suck-o-meter: 6.5 Why does it suck: Everyone assumed it was terrible because of Keanu; it was only sort of terrible Redeeming quality: Keanu was only the bassist
Bruce Willis Blues Band
Celebrity: Bruce Willis Suck-o-meter: 7.5 Why does it suck: Smirking, harmonica, awful hats Redeeming quality: Pretty sure he only plays at Planet Hollywood
Celebrity: Steven Seagal Suck-o-meter: 7.5 Why does it suck: Sounds like Bruce Willis’ band, but with synth Redeeming quality: Seagal playing the blues dressed like a Tibetan monk
30 Seconds to Mars
Celebrity: Jared Leto Suck-o-meter: 8.0 Why does it suck: Lost to Paramore in MTV’s Musical March Madness 2012 Redeeming quality: Jared rekindling romance with Ashley Olsen?
Celebrity: Jada Pinkett-Smith Suck-o-meter: 9.5 Why does it suck: Nu-metal was never good to begin with; Pinkett-Smith does not save it Redeeming quality: Might be an elaborate practical joke