Kris Kristofferson has written some of the greatest country songs of all-time; of this there can be little debate. As a performer and vocalist, however, Kristofferson is at the very best dicey, and at his worst, the most limited singer to ever grace the Grand Old Opry stage (with the late Ernest Tubb a close second). An appropriate parallel in the folk-pop world might be Leonard Cohen, a poet genius and lyrical giant who also can’t carry a tune in a wheelbarrow.
That said, the Atlantic recording artist has returned to his roots, playing the Santa Monica Boulevard singer/songwriter mecca for the first time in more than 25 years, and has recently re-recorded all of those tunes with alt-country stalwarts in Austin for that label.
“Me and Bobby McGee” was his second song of the evening, and didn’t even draw the loudest ovation; the sold-out room was completely versed in Kristofferson obscurities, singing along with minor gems like “Silver Tongued Devil” and a hilarious parody of “Wind Beneath My Wings” titled “The Race.”
Still chiseled, handsome and defiantly hippie leftist (he wore a “Free Leonard Peltier” tank top), the thinking man’s folkie did a 90-minute turn backed by a seasoned trio led by guitarist Stephen Bruton that may have been quiet and laid back, but moved from Tex-Mex to New Orleans to two-step without a strain.
That was the better part of the show. Kristofferson said little more than “Thank you,” besides offering up a rap about American prisons during “Johnny Lobo,” and, given that his speaking and singing voices aren’t all that different, a few choice harangues livened up the proceedings.