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Something to declare: Kristofferson at the Egg.

Photo: Chris Shields

The Songwriter’s Songwriter
By Shawn Stone

Kris Kristofferson

The Egg, March 30

‘I’d rather see Bob Dylan, too.” Kris Kristofferson wasn’t reacting to any negative audience vibes with this self-directed jab midconcert at the Egg last Thursday; he was, in a laughing, self- deprecating manner, commenting on his own shortcomings as a harmonica player.

If that’s a shortcoming—his harmonica playing is actually pretty good—it’s the only one he has. Kristofferson’s masterful solo acoustic performance in front of a sold-out crowd at the Hart Theater confirmed the obvious: He’s one of the great songwriters and a charismatic performer.

It’s easy to forget the way Kristofferson, after years of struggle, blew up in the country music scene in 1969 and ’70. First Roger Miller, then Jerry Lee Lewis, Ray Price and Johnny Cash had hits with his tunes.

Then Janis Joplin topped the pop charts (posthumously, as seemed to happen a lot in those days) with “Me and Bobby McGee.” An avalanche of awards (and royalty checks) followed, but Kristofferson never seemed to lose perspective on things. Maybe it’s his Renaissance-man background (Air Force helicopter pilot and Rhodes scholar) or his deep Christian beliefs, but he has remained as direct a personality as he is direct in his songwriting.

His songs are spare, using no more words than necessary to get the point of his story across. “Darby’s Castle” is chilling in its depiction of isolation and neglect. “For the Good Times” may have inspired some really bad imitations over the years (re: the collected love songs of Bob Seger), but it retains its own emotional impact. “Best of All Possible Worlds” is laconic and hilarious; “Loving Her Was Easier” is tribute to the persistence of memory and the power of regret; “Sunday Morning Coming Down” is a classic alcoholic lament; and “Why Me Lord” is a disarming affirmation of faith.

And they all rhyme so precisely and yet so simply that it makes one wish that this old-school rhyming hadn’t gone out of style.

It was a lot like Randy Newman’s show at the Troy Music Hall a couple of years ago: The lone songwriter playing one great, expertly crafted song after another to an adoring crowd. Kristofferson’s audience—which skewed old er than even I expected (I felt like a youngster at 42) —was his crowd. They recognized almost every song instantly, noting particular favorites with immediate applause. They laughed at every aside, and cheered at every pointed political comment.

Kristofferson isn’t shy about his politics: He’s a lefty, and opposes the war in Iraq. His ability to merge his radical politics and Christianity is deft and seamless; the Democratic Party might want to hire him as a consultant.

There was no opening act, and only a 15-minute-long intermission. The man came to sing, and that’s what he did.

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