Saturday was an evening of firsts for David Cook: The first show of his 2014 tour. His first show ever at Knuckleheads, the honky-tonk by the railroad tracks in the East Bottoms. And it was his first appearance in his hometown since November 2011, when he performed at the Midland theater.
More than 350 fans braved the bad weather Saturday night and sold out Knuckleheads, where the Blue Springs native and “American Idol” champ of 2008 put on a show that lasted about 10 minutes short of two hours. Many in the crowd were relatives and long-time friends; several times the show had the feel of a family or high-school reunion.
The crowd, which spanned at least three generations, got something of a bonus: Because of some equipment issues, they got to witness sound check, which was delayed until about 30 minutes before starting time. “This is really awkward,” Cook said with a laugh a few times as he and his three-piece band worked out the mix in front of the attentive crowd.
He opened with two from his “This Loud Morning” album: “Paper Heart” and then “The Last Goodbye.” Both bear the signature traits of his songwriting, which favors the dynamics of modern rock and grunge: big guitar hooks, sing-along melodies, anthemic choruses, bridges built on minor-chord progressions. Cook told the crowd he will be working on another record soon and would play several of the new songs. The first of those was “Carry You,” an inspirational, keep-your-chin-up anthem that was accented with keyboard effects.
He followed that with “Heroes,” from his self-titled LP, fusing it seamlessly with a verse and chorus from Oasis’ “Champagne Supernova,” then “Let Me Fall for You,” which opened with some U2/Edge-like guitar harmonics before erupting into another big-guitar anthem.
Throughout the show, he chatted, joked and jived with his bandmates and with the audience, encouraging them — demanding, really — to dance during the funky “Eyes on You,” another new one. “God loves you when you dance,” he said, quoting Billy Joe Shaver off a poster behind him. And they chatted back at him, sometimes during songs. They sang along, too, especially during favorites like “Heroes,” “Fade Into Me,” which he merged with the “Idol” anthem “The Time of My Life,” “Declaration,” “Come Back to Me,” “Light On,” his biggest hit, which aroused the loudest response, and the catchy, keyboard-driven “Laying Me Low,” his new single.
He tossed in some covers: Chris Isaak’s “Wicked Game,” which some fan laughed through, inexplicably; Bruce Springsteen’s “Secret Garden,” in which much of the crowd seemed disinterested; and a surprisingly worthwhile version of Prince’s “Purple Rain,” which stirred up another hearty response.
Nearly six years have passed since Cook won the “Idol” title. Each time he has returned to Kansas City he has played a smaller room and to a smaller crowd. It hasn’t diminished his enthusiasm or his appreciation for being able to make records and tour for a living. At this point, he seems to be sustaining a core audience that remains loyal and interested, especially in his hometown.
Paper Heart; The Last Goodbye; Carry You; Heroes/Champagne Supernova; Let Me Fall for You; We Believe; Eyes on You; Wicked Game; Fade Into Me/The Time of My Life; Kiss and Tell; Secret Garden; I’m Gonna Love You; Declaration; Come Back to Me; Purple Rain; Light On; Laying Me Low.