The two-sport athlete who successfully pursues both crafts is certainly an exception, but perhaps even less common is the performing artist who flawlessly jumps from one stage to the next.
Best known as Jack Bauer, among a number of other famous characters he’s brought to life for the last 30 years, actor Kiefer Sutherland has a new gig and if the whole acting thing doesn’t work out, well, he’s got a pretty good back-up plan. Sutherland, in his first visit to Portland, OR since filming “Stand By Me” brought his band on Saturday to the Mississippi Studios as part of his Not Enough Whiskey 2017 Tour and the sold-out house loved every minute of it.
It’s quite evident that playing music isn’t just a hobby he is securing tickets for because he’s a Hollywood A-lister. Sutherland is really good. Of course he probably did sell out because of who he is but if you’ve listened to Down In A Hole it’s not a stretch to believe a growing fan base for this up-and-coming music star.
Sutherland wrote what’s a very personal album with his friend Jude Cole and described the process as cathartic and one of the most enjoyable experiences in his life. He definitely enjoys the stage and looked like he was having fun as he kicked off the evening with six songs from the album – “Can’t Stay Away,” “I’ll Do Anything” “Truth in Your Eyes,” “Not Enough Whiskey,” Going Home” and “Shirley Jean” before tackling a few covers.
Sutherland sings much like he talks, actually, of course with some added style. He boasts Mike Ness’ growl with Tom Petty’s tone and perhaps a very thin layer of Bruce Springsteen without the marbles in his mouth. He knocked out 17 songs in just under 90 minutes and has surrounded himself with an excellent supporting cast which includes Jess Calcaterra on drums, bassist Joseph DeLeo, a second rhythm guitarist in Austin Velleijo, and a great lead guitar in Michael Gurley who bathed some soul into all those delicious solos.
Sutherland played mostly the acoustic guitar but also helped out on electric at times and shared stories of how the songs came about for much of the evening offering a number of fun anecdotes. Fans of the album who don’t necessarily dive into the lyrics might also be a bit surprised to learn some of those songs mean something else like “Shirley Jean” which is about a death row inmate and Sutherland wrote “Truth in Your Eyes” about a close friend who died years ago.
Sutherland said he wrote about 20 to 25 songs initially and was surprised how many were about drinking but it did produce some great tracks like the boozy “Not Enough Whiskey” and the album’s best cut “Going Home.” And, yes he played a few new songs fans can expect on the second album like the emotionally reflective “Saskatchewan” featuring a great Gurley solo and the uptempo rock song “Rebel Wind” which started the encore. Also, the unreleased “Goodbye” offers a rather catchy rhythm which Sutherland enjoys playing live.
The band didn’t play every song off Down in a Hole, sadly “Gonna Die,” an absolute gem, was left off the setlist but Sutherland said he wanted to also play a few songs people would know instead of 13 they’d never heard before. So, perhaps amusingly, he played “Honey Bee” a deep album cut off Tom Petty’s Wildflowers which Sutherland and his band simply owned with those billowing guitars and “Ways to be Wicked” by Lone Justice a song co- written by Petty, a “badass” in Sutherland’s book.
Sutherland moved to Toronto, Canada after his parents divorced and said while living there you had to listen to two bands or risk getting your butt kicked. He won’t play Rush (probably a good thing) but did a great rendition of “Sundown” by Gordon Lightfoot.
He dedicated “Bottle Let Me Down” to the original artist Merle Haggard whom Sutherland met three weeks before the legendary singer died, and the band closed the evening with Bob Dylan’s “Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door” following an amusing story about Sutherland’s father Donald Sutherland driving Kiefer and his twin sister to pre-school in a 1950s Ferrari while Donald played an 8-track Bob Dylan over and over.
Sutherland and his band did Down in a Hole serious justice as they played tight and completely matched the spirit of the album along with the excellent melodies and thoughtful arrangements. With a deep infusion of country, heartland rock and even a touch of modern rock, Down in a Hole is a joy and based on what Sutherland played on Saturday don’t expect a sophomore slump.
If you’ve never attended a concert at Mississippi Studios it’s an intimate theater with sold-out meaning about 300 people. It shares a building with the Bar Bar restaurant and while most of the staff were nice it suffers a bit from a “whose on first routine” as no one really seemed to know exactly how to help or in some cases want to help when asked. So, given the chance, just dive in and go early if you want to find a seat, otherwise expect Standing Room Only.
By the way, if one of Sutherland’s roadies holds the door open for you and gives you a look as if to say “Well, you going in or what?” it’s a trap, don’t fall for it. After saying “thank you” I walked into the venue and immediately felt a heavy-handed paw on my shoulder fish-lining me backwards. It’s a good thing I don’t have Sutherland’s acting chops because not only could I have made an overly dramatic scene, Sutherland would have spent the after-show figuring out how to bail him out.
Kiefer Sutherland Portland Setlist (Mississippi Studios):
- Can’t Stay Away
- I’ll Do Anything
- Truth in Your Eyes
- Not Enough Whiskey
- Going Home
- Shirley Jean
- Bottle Let Me Down
- Ways to be Wicked
- Calling Out Your Name
- Honey Bee
- All She Wrote
- Down in a Hole
- Rebel Wind
- Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door