He was the nonchalant champ, Mr. Laid-Back Goes to Hollywood. In front of 30-million-plus rabid viewers, David Cook Fonzied his way into winning the seventh season of American Idol. Oh, this Midwestern rocker was cool, cat-burglar cool.
But would post-Paula fame get to his curiously coiffed head, rattle his 26-year-old cage? At a Friday gig at the Mahaffey Theater, 1,300 fans, many of them those irascible Cougars for Cook, would say that their man remains the calm, charming customer he's always been.
Actually, they'd scream it.
And then they'd shimmy like there's no tomorrow. They're swell at shimmying.
For 80 surprisingly raw, rocking minutes, neo-grunger Cook and his four-piece outfit cranked out swarthy chunks of the singer-songwriter's 2008 platinum album. The live stuff turned out to be grittier and angrier than his way-too-safe studio songs, not to mention anything by fellow alum Chris Daughtry, who now seems lost in his generic rock sound.
In fact, Cook might be the closest thing to a metal-head that the Fox hit has ever produced. During a break between songs, his band even unleashed a Slayeresque death riff — and it sounded really darn good.
From the opening one-two punch of Heroes and Mr. Sensitive, Cook and his mates were intent on scraping off the pop lacquer from his hits. For midtempo ballad I Did It for You, his normally husky vocal bordered on a growl; it hinted that Cook, as he gets away from his Idol days, could be more Foo Fighter than pop star.
As well as being one of Idol's more defiant winners, he's also one of the most likable. He has a chatty way with an adoring crowd, ambling on and cracking wise as if you were shooting pool with the dude. At one point, he improv-ed a snippet of Marvin Gaye's Let's Get It On. ("Not even on the set list!" he mock-bragged.) And he had a warm, crowd-juicing moment with friend Charley Belcher and the WTVT-Ch. 13 star's lovely daughter, Lindsey Rose.
Cook is too smooth, too independent to lamely reproduce his Idol moments. At the same time, he knows he has a hot rep for re-imagining pop hits. So with cheeky verve, but an earnest energy, he uncorked a couple of offbeat '80s doozies: Cutting Crew's (I Just) Died in Your Arms and Johnny Hates Jazz's Shattered Dreams. He basically took a sledgehammer to those pesky one-hitters, but you know what? They were better for the beat-down.
Oh, and one more thing: Kudos to the Mahaffey for mussing up its hair and bringing in Cook. The regal opera-style hall actually makes for a fine rock venue. Keep bringing the noise, kids.
Sean Daly can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (727) 893-8467. His Pop Life blog is at blogs.tampabay.com/popmusic.