Kris Kristofferson walks on stage with his band in tow and says, “Sorry to wake you guys up” before commencing the first of two sets with Shipwrecked in the Eighties and during most of tonight’s performance his onstage banter is limited to a brief introduction of Merle Haggard’s (and now his) band the Strangers and thanks following the songs. He may be playing songs by rote but it is still beautiful and fulfilling to witness this icon perform. Occasionally he acknowledges his age and frailty (“Sorry I’m just standing here asleep”, and exclaiming, “I mean it!” at the tail end of Help Me Make It Through the Night) and he takes occasional breaks from singing lead when Scott Joss on fiddle and guitar performs more technically accomplished country-style vocals on Merle Haggard songs such as That’s the Way Love Goes and the Thebarton Theatre is transposed to Nashville to become the Grand Ole Thebby.
Whether the set list is unchanged night to night (as is suggested by the signed set lists for sale in the foyer) is not going to be something that matters to those who want to hear and sing along to their favourite songs like Me and Bobby McGee, like the man sitting beside me mumbling in a gravely hum that sounds like he is clearing his throat. The variation on the original lyrics for Sunday Morning Coming Down (“I fumbled in my closet through my clothes and found my cleanest dirty shirt… and I’m wearing it”) evokes laughter from those who know it off by heart. There are hints of Kristofferson’s former band mate the latter day Johnny Cash and the low whispered gravely vocals bring to mind Leonard Cohen’s later performances while Casey’s Last Ride with a co-lead vocal by Scott Joss sounds Dylan-esque. Feeling Mortal is starkly autobiographical and is followed by the lullaby From Here to Forever introduced as “one I wrote for my kids”.
In the second set he turns to Scott and asks, “how does this go”, before Duvalier’s Dream but it is during this half that Kris appears to have found his second wind with his gravely vocals to the fore. The audience too seem to have warmed up and while an audience clap along to Jesus Was a Capricorn dies early (although a sole woman continues to the amusement of those around her), there is a beautiful vocal accompaniment contributed to Why Me. Appropriately the performance ends with Please Don’t Tell Me How the Story Ends, the fitting lyrics perhaps recontextualised so that Kris is making reference to his relationship with the audience in his declining years: “This could be our last night together // We may never pass this way again // Just let me enjoy it ‘til it’s over, or forever // Please don’t tell me how the story ends”.
Live Review by Jason Leigh