Kris Kristofferson stuns the Pantages


The crowd that gathered at the Pantages yesterday to see Kris Kristofferson was decidedly silver-haired; overheard conversations included recollections of Kristofferson shows decades before, and some autograph hopefuls clutched cellophane-wrapped LPs bought first-hand when they were released. Shame on you, under-30's. Rock on, older folks. You know where the good music is.

There is a mystique surrounding geniuses who died early -- the Kurt Cobains and Buddy Hollys of the music world. But not enough has been said of the greats who live to show us their work through the filter of a hard-lived lifetime. The stars of the outlaw country music of the '70s are tough old bastards, though, and we've gotten to see most of them perform as old men -- Cash, Coe, Nelson, and of course Kristofferson.

He performed dressed in black under a single spot, with just a guitar, a harmonica, and a music stand holding his set list and a neon blue Gatorade. Seeming a little overwhelmed by the ecstatic croud, Kristofferson nonetheless kept the Pantages bolted to their seats for the first half of the show. He ran down some of his best tunes: "Me & Bobby McGee" made its appearance early, followed by "Best Of All Possible Worlds," a jailhouse tale that Kristofferson acknowledged was a true story.

The former Highwayman's fingers have slowed down a little, and more than once he had to fudge a lick when they failed him. But the errors were like scratches on an oft-played record; they're there to remind you how long you've enjoyed the album. A minor mix-up on one set of lyrics prompted a laughing, "Old age is not for sissies."

Kristofferson wasn't the biggest name among the outlaws, but he wrote some of the most elegantly poetic and soulful songs in the canon, and unlike his fingers, his voice hasn't suffered a bit: a silky baritone, slipping over into a falsetto crack at just the right moment.

By the second half of the concert, the crowd couldn't control their enthusiasm any more -- "Final Attraction," a tune dedicated to his friend Willie Nelson, earned a standing ovation. Kristofferson followed up with a slow, lazy rendition of "Sunday Morning Coming Down," and the crowd was on its feet again. "I'll never forget this night," he said, more than once. By the time he left the stage, the front of the theater was filled with fans with outstretched arms, hoping for a handshake. He was happy to provide.