For Kris Kristofferson the ‘old road’ has been a long one. Thankfully, he doesn’t appear to be stopping anytime soon. At the Rose in Pasadena last Thursday night the legendary songwriter took his time moving through his legacy of song for an appreciative capacity audience at the Vegas-style venue.
Even though the 1,300-capacity audience was far from intimate, one of Kristofferson’s performance gifts is his ability to bring audiences of any size to the heart of his songs. This night was no exception as he performed solo acoustic. He does this in-spite of his vocal limitations. While he’s never been a smooth singer, his rough voice carries character and a familiar comfort that allows him to deliver his songs with a welcome understated tone.
But, for Kristofferson, it’s all about the songs-the words and music-that tell a story.
During his early years, he offered an alternative to the mainstream country music of the day. When he first gained national fame with long-hair and jeans, he stood in contrast to the pompadours and rhinestones popular for country stars at the time. It wouldn’t take long before he was labeled with the ‘outlaw ‘ brand the country establishment used to categorize and confine the outsiders who dared buck the Nashville of 1970.
At The Rose, the singer-songwriter of songs like “Me & Bobby McGee,” and “Help Me Make It Through the Night,” went through songs that span his entire career. He said little to the audience as he sang one classic song after another including “For the Good Times,” and “Sunday Morning Coming Down” When the audience joined him on the chorus of the former song, he looked up and smiled and said, “It sounds like church!”
This year represents a kind of comeback following years of being misdiagnosed with Alzheimer’s Disease based on severe memory loss. After being treated for Lyme’s Disease he came back in good form. On Thursday at The Rose, he delivered the quiet power of some of the finest songs ever written for country music.
There were times when it felt like he was surveying the Great American Songbook as he sang standard after standard. In the past he has performed a verse and a chorus of many of his most famous songs. But, since his return to touring, it is as though he were enjoying the return of his memory by singing every word of songs like, “Loving Her Was Easier,” and “Why Me.”
But, just as satisfying was the less familiar songs as he opened with “Shipwrecked,” a song he wrote for the Vietnam veterans. “Feeling Mortal” from his 2013 album of the same name carried a poignancy with words like:
God almighty here I am
Am I where I ought to be?
I’ve begun to soon descend
Like the sun into the sea.
There were many touching moments during the two-hour show. There was a mother and an infant front and center next to the stage. It must have warmed him as he waved and smiled between songs. For his encore, he played the early classic, “Please Don’t Tell Me How the Story Ends.” When he sang the first line, “This may be our last goodnight together,” someone in the audience shouted, “we hope not!” Kristofferson smiled, finished the song, and walked away, his own vital mortality present and his legend appreciated.