Concert Review – Minneapolis 2017
“I think I’ve got the wrong harmonica,” the silver-tongued and silver-haired legend said a few seconds into a song, sharing a chuckle with his audience.
Not bothering to grab the right one from a nearby music stand, Kris Kristofferson continued on his acoustic guitar, the only other instrument on stage throughout his 90-minute set at a historic theatre in downtown Minneapolis.
The occasional harmonica slip was the only thing Kristofferson got wrong on this night, picking his way through 23 songs from a catalogue that would be the envy of anyone not named Bob Dylan, the Minnesota native whose giant mural graced the side of a building just down the street.
The fact he nailed every lyric with that instantly recognizable baritone, a voice cracking with age at times and breaking with emotion on at least one occasion, was significant.
Not long ago there were some serious concerns about how much longer Kristofferson would be able to sing his timeless tunes.
Apparently, in the grips of dementia, the former Rhodes Scholar was losing his memory, bit by bit.
He was finally diagnosed with Lyme Disease, which unlike Alzheimer’s is treatable, and received a new lease on life.
The 80-year-old seemed to make light of the scare during his Minneapolis show.
His 1970 classic, Best of All Possible Worlds, a song about a drunken run-in with a cop and a night in jail, has a line about everybody being “so concerned about my health.
“They were obsessed with it,” Kristofferson interjected, before continuing with a couplet that sums up his younger self as well as any: “Cause there’s still a lot of drinks that I ain’t drunk, and lots of pretty thoughts that I ain’t thunk.”
The sellout crowd of 1,014 laughed and cheered that one and many of his best lines, Kristofferson himself chuckling at a few, perhaps a tad surprised at how clever and cheeky the young songwriter had been in his early days in Nashville.
But this was no one- or two-album wonder who’d left his primary home in Hawaii for a tour that included the upper American midwest in the middle of January.
If Dylan anchors the Mt. Rushmore of modern-day songwriting, Kristofferson’s place alongside him is etched in the same granite.
After re-defining country music writing in the late 1960s and early ’70’s, he’s continued to deliver the goods, perhaps on a less consistent basis, but with no shortage of highlights.
A late-career resurgence over the last decade has seen him produce three icing-on-the-cake discs bristling with wisdom and Kristofferson’s ongoing cries for justice and mercy, all set to rhymes that stop you cold one minute, bring you to tears the next.
The grizzled grandfather has overcome with emotion himself at one point in his Twin Cities performance.
Singing the devastating third and final verse of Jody and the Kid, from 1971’s The Silver-Tonged Devil and I, Kristofferson’s voice broke noticeably trying to get through the words, which hint at the loss of a long-time lover.
His biggest hits, including Me and Bobby McGee, Sunday Mornin’ Comin’ Down andHelp Me Make it Through the Night, drew the biggest cheers, of course.
Bobby McGee included a shoutout to the late Janis Joplin, Kristofferson’s former friend and lover who died soon after her recording her iconic version of the song in late 1970.
The set included 14 songs from those first two timeless records, plus a sprinkling of lesser-known gems from throughout his career.
For most of the night you could hear a pin drop in the 100-year-old Pantages Theatre, as Kristofferson sang not just heartbreaking love songs, but songs of freedom and justice gone wrong, like They Killed Him, a reflection on Mahatma Gandhi, Martin Luther King and Jesus Christ, which the writer was proud to point out Dylan recorded in the mid 1970’s.
In Feeling Mortal, the title track from his last CD (2013) of new material, Kristofferson sang the chorus with gusto: “God almighty here I am. Am I where I oughtta be?”
The crowd confirmed that, yes, he was exactly where he was supposed to be.
Closing with the country-gospel gem, Why Me, Kristofferson returned for one encore, the ballad, Please Don’t Tell Me How the Story Ends, singing it the way you might expect from somebody coming off a health scare at that stage of life.
The crowd standing and applauding, Kristofferson raised his arm, clenched his fist and walked off the stage, determined to end his own story on his own terms.
Even if the wrong harmonica was still hanging from his neck.
Copyright remains with the author, Paul Friesen
Picture is from an autographed poster (Kris & Fuggles)