07 December 2012 (gig)
14 December 2012
Sinner, saint, outlaw, highwayman, political activist, actor, country & western legend… call him what you will. His name is Kris Kristofferson and Friday week ago, he wowed his many London fans!
The splendour that is the Royal Festival Hall, Southbank, played host to the still charismatic Kristofferson (now in his mid-70s). It was an evening that saw the concert split into two sets, and the lanky Texan in top form - accompanied by only his acoustic guitar, a harmonica, and his daughter Kelly in the second half.
While Kristofferson was in the UK to promote his latest and quite excellent new album, ‘Feeling Mortal’, he didn’t forget what the audience wanted to hear: his greatest hits of course. Sure enough there were many on offer that night, with its main topics involving God, the Devil, love, death, gambling, drink (not necessarily in that order)… Hey, that’s country & western for you!
To my frustration, the first three numbers ‘Shipwrecked In The Eighties’, ‘Darby’s Castle’ and ‘Me & Bobby McGee’ pretty much passed me by, courtesy of a mix-up concerning our seats and the ensuing confusion trying to sort things out. Finally my friend and I were all eyes and ears, and relishing the sight of a dark-clad Kristofferson singing ‘Here Comes That Rainbow Again’ - a song his ole’ pal Johnny Cash was always very fond of.
‘Help Me Make It Through The Night’ needs no further introduction, as it is amongst the artist’s greatest hits - though I’m so used to hearing the duet version performed with then squeeze Rita Coolidge, that Kristofferson’s Royal Festival Hall rendition felt strangely stripped bare.
Equally well received were ‘Casey’s Last Ride’, while ‘Nobody Wins’ was more spoken song then sung words. With its upbeat tune, ‘El Coyote’ has always been a winner and it was great that he performed it on the night, albeit in acoustic guise.
One of my absolute favourite Kristofferson songs is the haunting and poignant ‘Johnny Lobo’ about a Native American fighting for his people. The song exemplifies not only Kristofferson’s stance against injustice and prejudice, but with insightful lyrics like “Locked inside a heaven gone to hell / All the dreams were gone but not forgotten / Murdered like the holy buffalo” he demonstrates his support for minorities. The reward was rapturous applause, and deservedly so.
It’s a trifle tricky to review a set that included 30+ songs and which saw the artist performing solo, without starting to sound slap-dash repetitive. So many brilliant numbers, but very little banter in between, except the odd witty remarks. ‘From Here To Forever’ and the gorgeous ‘Loving Her Was Easier’ were two more highlights before the intermission.
Part Two of the show began with ‘Billy Dee’ and continued with ‘It’s Never Gonna Be The Same Again’ – a song that has all the quality of a Las Vegas show.
The evening – or the acoustic one-man routine rather – got spiced up when Kristofferson’s daughter Kelly joined him on stage and hey, she even brought her banjo along! Their first joint song was ‘Good Love’ and one couldn’t help detecting a sense of amusement going on between daughter and father, given the fact that the song is a love song. ‘The Hero’ and ‘Between Heaven And Here’ with their semi-religious themes were beautifully performed, though it sounded almost too ‘sweet’. Redemption came with ‘The Pilgrim’ and its witty lyrics, which were particularly suited for the musical interaction between Kelly and Father Kristofferson. The audience really loved it too and clapped and sang along, though they did that with most other songs as well.
Then it was time for the final round, once again performed completely solo by Kris. After so much Jesus it was time for the Devil to throw in an appearance, and he did just that in the guise of two songs – ‘To Beat The Devil’ and the classic ‘Silver-Tongued Devil’. Of the latter, Kristofferson informed the audience that years ago, his then five year old song declared he didn’t like that song. When Kris asked him why, his son replied that “the song is about you, Daddy, but you try to blame someone else for it”. Roaring laughter from the auditorium.
On number that simply had to be included was ‘Sunday Morning Coming Down’ and it sounded as fine as it always did. Then Mr. Kristofferson announced his farewell with ‘For The Good Times’ – adding that it might be the last time he plays this great venue, or it might be the last time he plays over here at all – warm and wisely chosen words coming from a living legend that despite growing old still has a fantastic voice and knows how to captivate his audience.
It goes without saying that his fans demanded an encore, and they got it with ‘Moment Of Forever’, ‘Why Me’, ‘Please Don’t Tell Me How The Story Ends’ (Kristofferson ended the song with a funny growl), and – giving in to more demand – a second helping of ‘Me And Bobby McGee’ supported by everyone clapping hands.
Afterward I stayed on in the foyer for a little while, to try and find out what punters had to say about the show. One lady, dressed in a Wild West rodeo style blouse, revealed that her highlight moment was Kristofferson singing ‘Help Me Make It Through The Night’ because as a young girl, she had always dreamt that he would do just that! A rather peculiar remark, however, came from a gentleman who looked in his thirties. “I don’t know anything much about Kris Kristofferson, but I thought it was a great show.” And who could argue with that?