Country music star Clint Black, who headlined yesterday's America Supports You Freedom Walk concert, is fond of the phrase "black and white." Before a crowd of listeners on the Mall just west of the World War II Memorial, he performed two songs in a row that used that idiom. But he skipped a third one, "I Raq and Roll," a controversial number that attacks antiwar protesters and threatens to drop a bomb on people who "stand with the likes of Saddam." That tune might have played well, but apparently someone decided it was too explosive.
The Pentagon organized the walk and concert, and it wasn't hard to read the sympathies of Black or the crowd that stayed for his entire 80-minute performance. The afternoon's loudest cheers were for Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, who received a standing ovation but whose invocation of John F. Kennedy was greeted with silence. The second biggest response greeted Black's wife, the TV actress and sometime singer Lisa Hartman Black, who entered midway through "When I Said I Do" to duet on that tribute to matrimony. By the time she appeared, the event had simply become a Clint Black show, something that didn't hold everyone's attention.
Although a contingent of devoted fans stayed until the end, the crowd inside the fenced-off area dwindled over the course of the concert. Halfway through the performance, the nearly empty section of seats reserved for families of 9/11 victims was opened to all comers. While that moved a few people closer to Black and his eight-piece band, the rest of the area continued to empty.
One of Black's black-and-white songs extolled old cowboy movies, in which you could tell the good guys "by the color of their hats." Yet the singer's trademark hat is black, not white, and his music owes a lot to bad-boy rock-and-roll. Most of his songs are rooted in the pretty, mid-tempo balladry of the Eagles, which he's adapted to convey greeting-card homilies about life and love, time and angels. Other tunes, however, ventured into roadhouse blues, and lead guitarist and co-songwriter Hayden Nicholas's solos were pure arena-rock.
Black started on-message, with several songs about heroes, departed friends and acceptance: "Where I am is where I have to be," he sang. Yet with "A Better Man," the hit that made him a star 16 years ago, the concept started to slip. Before the show was over, the singer had performed some country swing, a hard-drinking lament and Monty Python founder Eric Idle's "Galaxy Song," whose comic outlook was light-years away from the bellicosity of "I Raq and Roll.''