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Kristofferson gives insight, but no easy answers

Cerritos Center for the Performing Arts, Cerritos, Cal., October 6, 2017

Reviewed by Dan MacIntosh

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When they say music gets better with age, they're not always just talking about songs alone; sometimes they're also referring to the listener. When Kris Kristofferson sings, "Well, I woke up Sunday morning/With no way to hold my head that didn't hurt," to smartly open "Sunday Mornin' Comin' Down," he described an experience unfamiliar to most innocent young people.

Now, with a little more life experience, Kristofferson's songs - especially ones exploring emotions oftentimes connected with the morning after - take on crystal clear new resonance. Kristofferson shared many of his best songs tonight, accompanied only by his acoustic guitar, a little harmonica and that sandpapery singing voice. The concert was akin to sharing a beer with a wise old sage that knows how to read between the lines and then poetically share what he's learned through a lifetime of observation.

Yes, Kristofferson left room for songs of social commentary, such as "They Killed Him," which he told the audience Bob Dylan had recorded for his "Knocked Out Loaded" album, complete with a children's choir. However, his best songs tonight were the ones of a more personal nature. "For the Good Times," about a failed attempt to keep the last embers of a romance still burning, never sounded sadder. Similarly, "Help Me Make It through the Night" made the urgent need for companionship seem especially desperate.

Kristofferson is not a polished live performer. Many times, he ends songs rather abruptly. He's also not a skilled picker, preferring to accompany himself simply on guitar. The audience was comprised of devoted fans that often erupted into loud applause, and they didn't come to witness a slick performance. After one of these enthusiastic acts of appreciation, Kristofferson remarked, "Oh, I don't deserve that." Ah, but he did.

Stripped down, you more clearly recognize the poetry in his lyrics. For instance, his songs are oftentimes filled with smart observations and wry humor. Hearkening back to his days as a struggling songwriter, "Beat the Devil" finds Kristofferson admitting: "I ain't saying I beat the devil/But I drank his bear for nothing." See? Even in a Robert Johnson-at-the-crossroads-like scenario, Kristofferson is able to sneak in a lighthearted aside.

In a week that began with the biggest mass shooting in U.S. history, Kristofferson said nothing about that incident between songs. Instead, he allowed the insight into human nature found in his songs do all the talking. To paraphrase "The Pilgrim - Chapter 33," we're all walking contradictions, to some extent, whether we care to admit it or not. We're each partly truth, partly fiction. Sure, we'd love to know the specific motives for particular many human actions. Humanity is just too darn complicated for that, though. Tonight, Kristofferson gave his audience plenty of insight, without any easy answers. And yet, the audience still left fully satisfied.