Kief-ing up with appearances: Venue reviews Kiefer Sutherland

There are many success stories of actors who become musicians, or vice versa. Jared Leto is the poster boy of this transition, Jason Shwartzman has an enviable discography, and Jeff Golblum soon hopes to join this hall of fame with his upcoming jazz album. Kiefer Sutherland is not someone you’d consider.

The actor, star of 24 and Designated Survivor, has typically stayed away from the limelight, with an often quiet persona in the infrequent interviews he gives. However, after releasing a debut country album in 2016, the actor is quietly beginning to become a country icon. He visited the LCR to promote his upcoming album Reckless & Me.

The evening began with a set from Rick Brantley, a young country artist from Nashville. His recordings typically feature quite an elaborate production, with multiple guitars and backing vocals, and he was clearly having a hard time translating this to the single-guitar single-voice performance he was given. He made a valiant attempt at keeping the audience engaged, however, few people were getting caught up in the country atmosphere he was creating.

A contributing factor to this lack of interest may have been the strange ambience created by the set production – main lights were on around the LCR, and seating areas were set up to the sides of the pit. Gigs can be uncomfortable enough anyway without being able to see the sweat dripping off the people either side of you, or tripping over chair legs every time you try to move.

When Kiefer Sutherland made his way on to set no-one knew what to expect. The audience were clearly there because they knew him as an actor, not a singer, a fact that he brought up early in the set with his trademark dry humour. Yet between his light-hearted song introductions, his obvious confidence in his own music, and his restrained dancing (artists tend to dance too much or too little when performing, Sutherland found the balance), his set was startlingly good.

His songs tend to be mainly acoustic, nestling in the 60s/70s sombre period of country with a few sparks of modern, drinking-songs country thrown in. Yet his live set brought forward the electric guitars usually left in the background of the songs, creating a much more rocking sound. This worked wonders for the songs, making his slower hits like ‘Not Enough Whiskey’ retain the set’s momentum, and getting even elderly members of the audience dancing with the drinking songs like ‘Agave’.

Not all of the set benefitted from this electric focus – his magnum opus, ‘Shirley Jean’, was barely recognisable under the enhanced lead guitar, and a version of the already over-covered and trite ‘Knocking on Heaven’s Door’ felt soulless. Yet in general, the altered instrumentation elevated a style of country that went out of fashion decades ago and made it work for a dubious audience.

Kiefer Sutherland has a voice for country music – it’s gravelly, deep, and gains intensity the lower it gets, and if Sutherland had never become an actor he could have had a great career as a country singer. The audience was clearly curious as to whether he’d provide a good set or if he was just a novelty act, and despite the ridiculous hat and skinny jeans he wore, and the repeated references to his drinking habit, and the bizarre use of a nightstand and lamp in the middle of the set, his performance was surprisingly good. He’s rarely in anything nowadays, and if that means he’s recording new music he could become another of the icons of musical actors.

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May 2022
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