Sunday, August 5, 2012

Kris Kristofferson: Hoyt Sherman Theater 8/3/2012

The Hoyt Sherman Theater in Des Moines hosted an American music icon this past Friday night.

Kris Kristofferson  walked out onto the stage at 7:30 with his guitar strapped to his chest. With a slight nod and a gallant smile he dove into his first song of the night, a self-loathing ballad from his 1986 release, Repossessed called "Shipwrecked in the '80s".

It's a dire song about lost love but it's composition is beautiful, and Mr. Kristofferson finger picked his guitar beautifully around the words, presenting it as delicately as it was recorded on the album. It set the tone for a wonderful night of music as he played for almost two hours, encompassing music from his entire career.

Kris Kristofferson at Hoyt Sherman in Des Moines
(Photo by Sarah Cartwright)

Though he saved many of the classics for the second set, each song he played was met with spellbound fascination. The nearly full auditorium sat in gazed silence as he painted a picture with his captivating lyrics, presenting each verse like a line in a movie.

At times he seemed majestic and had no obvious problems hitting the ranges and the timings in his songs. But other times he seemed to struggle a bit with the lyrics - but only once or twice - and it never became a factor. One could tell that he knew these songs inside and out, and it was interesting to hear the natural evolution that these tracks have taken over the years.

"Me and Bobby McGee", was introduced with the mention of Janis Joplin, the late great singer who made it famous. On this song and a few others throughout the night, Kristofferson only played the first verse of the piece and the chorus, before cutting it short.

Perhaps he's performed "Bobby McGee" so many times throughout his career, that he simply gets bored playing it. Whatever his reasoning, the crowd reacted as if they didn't even notice. (I'm wondering if they did?)

Late in the first set, during "Loving Her was Easier (Then Anything I'll Ever Do Again)" he stopped well short of the finished song, even asking the crowd, "Did I forget to play the bridge?" The crowd laughed and applauded anyway, as if hypnotized by the legend before them.

I got the feeling that he could have sang the lyrics in Swahili and nobody would have raised an eyebrow.

While he did occasionally have these quaint missteps; once even with the right choice of harmonica ("Oops that's the wrong key," he said), other times he came across as brilliant. One such time was when he handled the busy words to "Casey's Last Ride" with ease, never once breaking time. It's a tough song, lyrically. It's one of those numbers written in the old country vein in which the singer speaks most of the words, and it's timing has to be absolutely perfect for it to be performed effectively. Mr. Kristofferson pulled it off without a glimpse of failure, picking his guitar masterfully alongside the spoken verse.

Another display of spontaneous levity came early in the 2nd set when a fan shouted out a request for "Sky King."

"Why not?" asked Kristofferson, instantly picking it out on his guitar.

"Sky King" is a comedic song is about a helicopter pilot who, having trouble getting his bird off the ground, uses the super human force of puckering his butt to suck the chopper up. It is a cult favorite that was only released on the 2003 live album, Broken Freedom Song: Live from San Fransisco. This song was, in a way, a turning point for the night, as Mr. Kristofferson and the crowd seemed to loosen up a bit after it was played.

Well he pushed that collective on down through the floor
But the damn rotorblade wouldn't turn anymore
So his butt puckered up and with a frightening sound
He just sucked that old chopper up off of the ground, Sky King

The ship wasn't hurt but it took half the class
To get the seat cover out of Sky King's ass, Sky King

He finished the song and a few people stood and cheered, but it was the next song that gained the most applause of any song during the night, "The Pilgrim (Chapter 33)."

Depending on the night it's played, "Pilgrim" is a song written about Dennis Hopper, or Ramblin' Jack Elliott, or Johnny Cash, or Jerry Jeff Walker or any of the other characters that Kris has become friends with during his extensive musical career. Whomever it bios, it is one of Country Music's great songs and one of Kristofferson's finest. As it concluded, The Hoyt Sherman Theater came alive with a thunderous ovation.

(Photo by Sarah Cartwright)

He played his hits too of course, from "Jody and the Kid" to "To Beat the Devil" to "Sunday Morning Coming Down." He opened the second set with a rare version of "Jesus Was a Capricorn," a song that's only recently been reintroduced into his repertoire. One particular moment that stands out is when he played "This Old Road," a song that he said he wrote after Waylon Jennings died in 2002. It was a touching tribute that once again captured the crowd.

"Love is the Way" was also captivating, with it's persuasive lyrics calling for a better world. It's words are timeless, and are delivered with foreboding clarity:

Now the warriors are waving their old rusty sabres
The preachers are preaching the gospel of hate
By their behaviour determined to teach us
A lesson we're soon to be learning too late

As the lessons we learned from the civil rights movement of the '60s seem to become more and more of a footnote, "Love is the Way" is a simple approach to building a solution. At the very least it's a grim reminder of what this country's dark side stands for.

Mr. Kristofferson seemed reflective in the delivery of his songs, and it seemed fitting that he closed the second set with "For The Good Times," a song from his very first album that deals with a pending separation. As he sang, "Lets be glad that we had this time together", the audience cheered, obviously still completely captivated by this iconic figure onstage before them. Once again the crowd stood in thunderous applause as he finished the song, said good night, and vanished into the darkness behind the stage.

It was only momentary. With his guitar still strapped to his chest, he reappeared almost instantly and broke into a song he wrote, recorded, and gave to Willie Nelson called "Moment of Forever."

Afterwards somebody in the crowd shouted to play "Why Me" which Kris responded to with a playful, "Not yet."

He then played "Please Don't Tell Me How the Story Ends" a song written by Kristofferson but performed by Ronnie Milsap. (Kristofferson later recorded a version with Mark Knopfler for The Austin Sessions CD.)

Then, the figure in the crowd got his wish. Kristofferson ended the night with a slow and beautiful version of what may be his signature song, "Why Me." It was the perfect ending to what amounted to about an hour and a half performance by one of the greats. As he walked off the stage for the final time he paused for a second, as if he was overcome with indecision.

He then waved and disappeared into the shadows.


Set List (Based off memory)

Shipwrecked in the '80s
Darby's Castle
Me and Bobby McGee
Best of All Possible Worlds
Here Comes that Rainbow Again
Help Me Make It Through the Night
Casey's Last Ride
Nobody Wins
God Almighty Here I Am
Loving Her Was Easier
From Here to Forever


Jesus Was a Capricorn
Just the Other Side of Nowhere
Jody and the Kid
Sky King
The Pilgrim (Chapter 33)
To Beat the Devil
This Old Road (tribute to Waylon)
Sunday Morning Coming Down
Silver Tongued Devil
Love is the Way
For the Good Times


Moment of Forever
Please Don't Tell Me How the Story Ends
Why Me


Pertinent links:

Kris Kristofferson's Official

Hoyt Sherman Theater

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