Aaron Lewis’ concert Wednesday night at the VooDoo began like a jingoistic political rally.
As a four-piece backing band riffed on the ominous chords of “Country Boy,” Lewis asked the approximately 700 audience members to stand and told the men to remove their hats. Framed by a backdrop of an enormous American flag, Lewis recited the Pledge of Allegiance.
The lyrics of the opening selection extolled the virtues of firearms, independence from government oversight and the freedom to live and work without the approval of outsiders.
Guns, patriotism and motherhood were repeatedly celebrated during Lewis’ 90-minute set. He returns Thursday to VooDoo in Harrah’s North Kansas City casino.
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The Massachusetts-based Lewis has long been a favorite among local audiences. He performed in the area three times last year: a solo gig at the VooDoo, an appearance at Rockfest in May with his rock band, Staind, and a date at the Sprint Center opening for country artist Brantley Gilbert.
Footage from Rockfest went viral when Lewis halted his band’s performance to protest the manhandling of a female crowd-surfer. Lewis was roundly criticized several months later when he bungled the lyrics of “The Star-Spangled Banner” at game five of the World Series in San Francisco.
Powered by Lewis’ pained voice and morose songwriting, Staind was one of the most successful rock bands of the first few years of the new millennium. Lewis has launched a career as a country artist in recent years.
Aside from several solo-acoustic numbers, Lewis and his band worked within the confines of country on Wednesday. The pedal steel and lap-steel work of Ben Kitterman lent the selections a credible country sheen.
An arresting arrangement of the “It’s Been Awhile” recast the 2001 Staind hit as a country song. “Grandaddy’s Gun,” an ode to a treasured family heirloom, and the litany of country lyrical tropes “Northern Redneck” were among the strongest new compositions.
Lewis’ penchant for gloomy self-loathing remains. During a new love song, he sang that “I’m an albatross hanging around my own neck.”
“That Ain’t Country,” a screed in which Lewis complained about the fare favored by country radio programmers, was unintentionally ironic. The song resembled an effort by the countrypolitan crossover artist Ronnie Milsap. Lewis is unknowingly contributing to the dilution of the country sound.
Lewis’ affection for country is undoubtedly sincere, but he might consider leaving songs dedicated to defending the music to the experts.