With the Texas Gentlemen
Annette Strauss Square, Dallas
Friday, Oct. 14, 2016
Kris Kristofferson embodies the term “living legend.” Over the course of a six-decade career, the singer-songwriter, actor, poet, Rhodes Scholar and all-around renaissance man has left an indelible mark on the popular culture. Though the various afflictions of father time have slowed his output in recent years, Kristofferson still remains a powerful presence capable of commanding any room he walks into or stage he ambles upon — including Annette Strauss Square at the AT&T Performing Arts Center, where he appeared with Dallas' Texas Gentlemen on Friday night.
From the moment Dallas sports media personality Babe Laufenberg appeared to eloquently introduce him, there was a sense of reverence permeating the cool, fall-like weather that accompanied the outdoor confines of Strauss Square. At 80 years of age, Kristofferson is one of the few musical titans remaining that demand not only an audience’s attention but their rapt devotion. On a weekend where Bob Dylan was honored with the Nobel Prize and he and a few other rock icons appeared together as part of the much ballyhooed Desert Trip Festival, Kristofferson understatedly reminded a modestly assembled, yet devoted crowd of the small, workmanlike details that allow good songwriting to stand the test of time.
Drawing from a vast and legendary songbook, Kristofferson jammed as much of his material as he could into the tightly arranged 90-minute set. Fans who ventured out hoping to hear the hits like “Me and Bobby McGee,” “The Silver Tongued Devil and I,” “Casey’s Last Ride” and “Jesus Was A Capricorn” needed not to worry, as Kristofferson delivered them all with accomplished grace and charm. He also brought a choice selection of deeper cuts to the proceedings, blistering through a hot take of “The Pilgrim, Chapter 33” (here, though, excluding the spoken-word introduction), a soulful run through “Nobody Wins” and a rousing cover of his buddy Dylan’s 1986 gem, “They Killed Him.” “I’m proud to say Bob Dylan cut this next one,” Kristofferson remarked during the intro.
Though his bellowing voice rang through with its standard authority, there were times here and there where it cracked or wavered under certain notes. Kristofferson’s family has noted the effects that a long misdiagnosed case of Lyme’s Disease has had on his memory, and for his age, it would be perfectly understandable to expect some moments of cloudiness to appear at various points of the performance. Those moments, however, never materialized. Instead, Kristofferson commanded the confidence of the songwriting master he is. Though the banter was nearly nonexistent — a boisterous “thank you” signaled the end of each song — Kristofferson regularly and eagerly jumped into the next number before the current one had even reached its conclusion. In fact, the show’s pace was so quickly assembled that those wishing to duck out for a beer or restroom break had little time to do so.
While Kristofferson’s voice anchored each track, it was the Texas Gentlemen — who first joined Kristofferson onstage over the summer for a historic appearance at the Newport Folk Festival — that provided the lush and expansive arrangements that gave the songs a life of their own. At times hushed and respected, and at others sprightly and raucous, the various Gentlemen ambled off and onstage adding layers of sound that emboldened these well-worn songs, filling the air with personality and aplomb. Though a tightly connected and revered live act in their own right, they perfectly embodied the role as Kristofferson’s house band by decorating the edges with soulful keys, organs and sax and anchoring the foundations with country stomp and grit.
Though the Gentlemen never crowded the main attraction by invading his space, Kristofferson introduced each member about halfway through the show and stepped aside as the band took their turn in the spotlight with a gorgeous waltzing version of the country classic, “Crazy.” This gesture that not only provided the band with a moment to bask in the spotlight, but also served to reinforce the notion that Kristofferson’s musical aura is in great hands moving forward.
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Later, after the final chorus of “Why Me Lord?” had beautifully wound down and the assembled musicians had taken a collective and celebratory final bow, Kristofferson appeared onstage alone with his acoustic guitar and proceeded to play “Please Don’t Tell Me How the Story Ends.” As his voice cracked halfway through the song (it was truly difficult to tell if this was by accident or design), a ripple of applause erupted from the crowd and Kristofferson took advantage of the moment to gracefully wave his hands and bow his head in appreciation.
It was an emotionally gripping moment that made time, for just a few precious seconds, seem to stand still. Who knows how many more moments like these Kristofferson may have left in him? But for now, he and his legions of fans are making each one magical. Moments like these are only the work of a select and gifted few.