Kiefer Sutherland disappeared just long enough to ditch the white sports coat he’d been wearing all night before returning to the stage for an encore. As he rolled up the sleeves of his black button-down shirt to reveal a pair of tastefully tattooed forearms, he began to tell a story about what it was like being in the care of his father when he was around the age of four.
Like most everyone else in the room, I knew the father in the story was esteemed actor Donald Sutherland. Ironically, my own father is the one that had first alerted me of the Sutherland lineage while watching the coming of age classic Stand by Me in which the younger Sutherland played an antagonistic bully named “Ace”.
I’m not sure why, but that memory kind of hit me right in the feels as the band broke into a cover of Bob Dylan’s classic “Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door”.
Less than two hours earlier as I was staking a claim close to the stage, I had been battling a pretty serious case of pre-show jitters. I wasn’t quite puke my guts out nervous, but I was acutely aware of every beat my heart made. I was starting to see how impossible it would be to take everything in as though Kiefer Sutherland was just like any other singer-songwriter promoting a new album.
The couple to the left of me was cradling a full box set of the TV series 24, and a woman to my right was animatedly recounting his show the night before in Kelowna while sporting a t-shirt with the stars’ likeness emblazoned on the front. The Commodore Ballroom was by no means at capacity on that Wednesday evening, but there were some people very much looking forward to seeing the man who played indestructible CTU operative Jack Bauer and utopian President Tom Kirkman take the stage.
We all soon discovered that Sutherland is a skilled musician and an energetic performer. He opened the show with the foot-stomping, “Rebel Wind”, a track that as far as I can tell, hasn’t been recorded yet. That was followed by a lively rendition of “Can’t stay Away”, the opening track from his debut album, Down in a Hole. He didn’t hold back vocally, and he spent a good chunk of time racing from one side of the stage to the other, to which the audience responded with wild abandon.
This show wasn’t an extension of any pop culture persona, or Hollywood production; there were no pyrotechnics, no fancy light displays, no bells and whistles. In fact, the opening act, Darcy Windover was a solo singer-songwriter whose only prop was stool holding up bottle of water and a case of harmonicas. Windover’s performance was raw, stripped down and personal.
Sutherland had four excellent bandmates accompanying him that collectively wielded an arsenal of musical equipment. The stage was littered with stringed instruments, and Sutherland divided his time equally between an acoustic Gibson and a classic Fender Telecaster. He also spent a good deal of time jamming it out with guitarist Austin Vallejo, who was sporting a pair of mighty fine Willie Nelson inspired braids.
He played my favorite song “Something You Love” early in the set, which for me was one of the highlights of the evening. I also loved that he prefaced a lot of his songs with anecdotes or personal insights about what the songs were about and how they affected him. I’ve always maintained that singer-songwriters are the bravest among us, and I have to tip my hat to someone willing to expose themselves to that level when people already have preconceived notions about who they are.
That said, my absolute favorite song of the night was his cover of Tom Petty’s “Honey Bee”. I started freaking out as soon as I heard the first riff because it seemed totally unreal to be listening to an actor I’ve seen on the screen all my life play a song from an artist I’ve listened to all my life. It was the stuff that rock and roll dreams are made of.
Sutherland was clearly the band leader of the ensemble and he worked his butt off making connections with the crowd and keeping the energy high, which is exactly what people came to see. I get the feeling this is only the tip of the iceberg as far as what he has to offer musically and I found myself wondering what magic might transpire if he were to let his ensemble carry some of the weight.