Kris Kristofferson groaned “help me make it through tonight” during a creaky reading of “Help Me Make It Through the Night” at the Uptown Theater on Wednesday. Not everyone in the audience of 1,100 laughed at his droll joke.
The legendary songwriter, 80, occasionally struggled during two 45-minute sets. There was no assurance that he’d successfully work his way through any of the 28 songs on the set list.
Once an exemplar of virility, Kristofferson isn’t exempt from the ravages of time. His voice is more ragged than ever. The handsome visage that helped make him a movie star decades ago has been similarly transformed. By electing to perform in a solo-acoustic format, Kristofferson made no attempt to conceal these deficiencies.
Instead, he used the inescapable flaws to his advantage. His decrepit voice and rudimentary guitar and harmonica playing made his sad songs even more melancholy and transformed love ballads into timeless sonnets. When Kristofferson wheezed “I’d trade all my tomorrows for a single yesterday” on his beloved composition “Me and Bobby McGee,” the proposed exchange seemed like a bargain.
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Besides, most of the 28 songs are so ingrained in the minds of fans that the shambolic interpretations were just a minor distraction. He didn’t hit half the notes in the memorable chorus of “Loving Her Was Easier (Than Anything I’ll Ever Do Again),” but the sympathetic murmur created by hundreds of people subvocalizing the lyrics provided a forgiving chorus.
Kristofferson resembled a celestial prophet reciting parables during “Duvalier’s Dream” and “Darby’s Castle.” On other selections, he seemed to be delivering portions of his own eulogy.
He noted that “sooner or later I’ll be leaving — I’m a winner either way” on the 2013 composition “Feeling Mortal.” The earthy “The Pilgrim, Chapter 33” sums up an abundant life by suggesting that “from the rocking of the cradle to the rolling of the hearse, the going up was worth the coming down.”
Unlike the narrator of “Broken Freedom Song” who sighs that it “ain’t much fun to sing that song no more,” Kristofferson seemed to enjoy himself. He may have been wobbly, but he was never undignified.
A line from “A Moment of Forever” reflected the tone of the concert: “Sometimes when you’re crying, you’re happy — sometimes you’re just crying.” Appreciative tears of joy as well as poignant tears of farewell were shed at the Uptown Theater on Wednesday.
Shipwrecked in the Eighties; Darby’s Castle; Me and Bobby McGee; Here Comes That Rainbow Again; Best of All Possible Worlds; Help Me Make It Through the Night; Billy Dee; Rocket to Stardom; Casey’s Last Ride; Nobody Wins; Feeling Mortal; From Here to Forever; Broken Freedom Song; Loving Her Was Easier (Than Anything I’ll Ever Do Again); Just the Other Side of Nowhere; Duvalier’s Dream; I’d Rather Be Sorry; They Killed Him; Jody and the Kid; The Pilgrim, Chapter 33; Jesus Was a Capricorn; The Promise; To Beat the Devil; Sunday Mornin’ Comin’ Down; The Silver Tongued Devil and I; For the Good Times; A Moment of Forever; Why Me; Please Don’t Tell Me How the Story Ends