‘This is how it’s done’ in Brighton: Kiefer Sutherland Chalks up a triumph
KIEFER SUTHERLAND + THE ADELAIDES – CHALK, BRIGHTON 21.02.20
Canadian actor Kiefer Sutherland needs no introduction from me. If you watch TV or go to the movies you’ll doubtless have come across horror ‘The Lost Boys’, in ‘Young Guns’ or ‘Flatliners’, or on TV as Jack Bauer in ’24’.
If celebrity gossip is your thing, you may also know of his reputation as a hell-raiser. What you might be less aware of is that he fashioned a concurrent alternative career as a rancher and rodeo star. The mythology of the cowboy is deeply embedded in American cultural identity, and rodeo is a big deal, with a level of excitement and glamour rarely matched by British contests of farming prowess, such as sheep dog trials or ploughing matches. As someone disinclined to argue with mammals larger than me, it’s a skill set I find very impressive.
Having made his name in two vastly different fields of endeavour, Kiefer has more recently embarked on a third career in music, proving himself a very capable songwriter with two well received albums: ‘Down In A Hole’ (2016) and last year’s ‘Reckless & Me’. Apparently he is an engaging performer, and his live act is extremely popular. Tonight’s tour date at CHALK in Brighton is totally sold out, and I’m intrigued to see the show.
Support is from The Adelaides, a country pop trio. Their name suggests Australia, their look is pure Nashville, and a quick check online reveals they are actually from the Wild West Midlands. Raised by Wolves? They are three young women with long flowing hair and the sort of heavy makeup that is fashionable these days. Vocalist Alicia Alba is centre stage, flanked by Paris Georgia and Abi Phillips, who both wear Western hats and strum acoustic guitars. Most of the singing is three part harmonies, rich and pleasing to the ear, and the guitar work is deftly executed as well. Understandably they throw in some covers as an entry point for the partisan crowd, though I rather prefer their original material. ‘Good Love’ stands out as a well written, contemporary sounding pop song. ‘Jelly Baby’ is even catchier and moves along nicely, with an amusing lyric: “It’s not a rocket in your pocket, it’s just a Jelly Baby.” When Abi encourages the crowd to clap along there’s an enthusiastic take up. It’s been an entertaining start to the evening, and if country tinged pop sounds like your sort of thing, check out The Adelaides.
The Adelaides set included: ‘Hit The Road Jack/Sweet Dreams Are Made Of This’ (cover medley), ‘Good Love’, ‘Sweet Temptation’, ‘Jelly Baby’, ‘Jolene’ (Dolly Parton cover)
The sizeable hall at CHALK is rammed and buzzing with anticipation. A quick look around suggests that the headliner’s broad appeal spans a wide range of ages. Onstage, there’s a keyboard set up made to look like an old upright pub piano, and a Gretsch drum kit with a single rack tom and a large, chunky ride cymbal. A nice homely touch, centre stage, is an occasional table supporting a snuggly looking lamp with a fringed shade. It comes complete with hat stand, ashtray and spittoon, which should hopefully cover all eventualities. Across the back of the stage, a glowering array of fixtures stands ready should less subdued lighting be called for.
There’s a loud cheer as the band comes on: five shadowy figures clad in black, some wearing Western style hats. As they strike up the opening number, ‘Can’t Stay Away’, the lights burst into life and Kiefer Sutherland bounds onto the stage, cutting a striking figure in a white jacket, scarf and a wide brimmed white gaucho hat. He hits a pose with his jumbo acoustic guitar, and the already excited crowd goes absolutely wild. The music is steady paced country rock, with a lilting beat pounding heavily on the drums, and a couple of nice sections of slide guitar. Cross stick rim shots and piano open ‘Something You Love’, and the big white hat gets flung onto its waiting stand. The number is a brisk ride through the familiar country music theme of the travails of the working man: “wasting my life just paying my bills.” A lyrical device whereby this is being told to Kiefer by a friend, who presumably isn’t a Hollywood star, staves off any encroaching irony.
I’m wondering whether the capacity crowd are here to see Kiefer the well known public figure, or for the music? I’m pretty sure it’s both, because plenty of the clearly starstruck fans around me are enthusiastically singing along. During an anecdote about his rodeo days in the 1990’s, told to introduce ‘Reckless & Me’, Kiefer oozes charm and charisma, and the audience are hanging on his every word. A small minority of patrons who have the audacity to carry on chatting are sternly shushed. The song, title track of the current album, was initially written about his horse, but over time Kiefer has begun to wonder whether it might be more about himself. Either way, it’s a cracking piece of work, and the catchy ‘oh oh oh’ vocal figure on the chorus elicits a mass singalong worthy of the terraces at a football match.
There’s absolutely no doubt who the star of the show is, but while we’re here, I’ll briefly describe the rest of the band to you. House right, with long plaited hair and a massive black Stetson hat, is the tall figure of guitarist Austin Valleijo, wrangling impressive flurries of clipped trebly notes from a blonde Telecaster. There’s another guitarist house left, who I’m pretty sure is Greig Leisz, earlier delivering some fantastic slide lead on a brown Telecaster, and now seated at a lap steel guitar for ‘Reckless & Me’. Behind the pub piano facade, the distinctive bearded figure of Phil Parlapiano clearly has a range of keyboard sounds to draw on, as well as an accordion. His black headgear sports a rather fancy decorative band. The phrase “10 gallon hat” refers to “galón” (Spanish for “braid”) rather than its capacity, and I think Phil’s would qualify, though for storage I doubt it would hold more than a couple of pints. Up on the riser, young drummer Jes Calcaterra is giving that Gretsch kit a serious pounding. She has a languid but powerful style, sending glorious fills tumbling around the toms, and has got into the spirit of the occasion wearing a Western neckerchief. Completing the tight rhythm section is Joseph DeLeo, a moustachioed young player, grooving fluidly on a sunburst Jazz bass.
Phil switches to mandolin for ‘Shirley Jean’, a prison song in the style of Johnny Cash. For the laid back opening verse of ‘Open Road’, Kiefer sings with his guitar casually slung over his back, deftly swinging it round to play as the beat kicks in, signalled by a massive snare hit and a bright burst of lights. The lyrics are wistful dreams of the freedom of the road, and conjure images of the wide open spaces of the North American landscape. There’s a very touching introduction to ‘Truth In Your Eyes’, a reflective number about an old friend who passed away. ‘Going Home’, whose lyrics depict the maudlin weariness that sometimes comes with being too drunk, is sung over a rather pleasing stomp featuring some lovely interplay between the two guitars and an absolutely blistering solo.
‘Blame It On Your Heart’ is a cover of a song first recorded by Patty Loveless, and is full on, unashamed, good ol’ country music. If we weren’t jammed in like sardines, I suspect the people around me would start line dancing. Kiefer is clearly having fun, jumping on and off the riser, and relishing his delivery of the hilariously vitriolic lyric: “Blame it on your lying, cheating, cold dead-beating, two-timing, double-dealing, mean-mistreating, loving heart.”
There’s a lot of love in the room as Kiefer expresses his gratitude to the audience by raising his glass in a toast, which is warmly reciprocated. The set moves on. ‘Bloor Street’ is a laid back number about his hometown back in Canada, and there’s a funny story about how a line in the ‘Bridget Jones’s Diary’ movie inspired ‘I’ll Do Anything.’ A stark shaft of white light illuminates the broodingly autobiographical ‘Saskatchewan’, about flying home after his mother had suffered a series of strokes. The anecdote that follows relates that she has thankfully recovered to some extent, certainly enough to admonish Kiefer that she doesn’t want to be buried in Saskatchewan!
‘This Is How It’s Done’ is probably my favourite number of the night, with a more urgent snare-driven boogie rhythm and some tasty organ chops. ‘Rebel Wind’ goes well enough to inspire Kiefer to an impressive leap from the drum riser that his insurers would probably prefer not to see. Guitarist Austin delivers a seriously impressive fret tapping solo on ‘Honey Bee’, and there are some big drum hits punctuating the moodily atmospheric ‘All She Wrote.’ The crowd are absolutely loving it, and ‘Down In A Hole’ is a fine finale, again employing some nifty interplay between the twin Telecasters. The cheering at the end could raise the roof, and if it does I hope there’s some sturdy support in place, as the annoying pillars from this venue’s previous incarnation as The Haunt have all disappeared.
Of course there’s an encore. If there wasn’t, we might have a riot on our hands. From a personal perspective, there’s rarely any valid excuse to play the dreary pub rock standard, ‘Knockin’ On Heaven’s Door.’ However, if your father was cinematic icon Donald Sutherland, taking you to school during his long haired, bearded, leather jacketed “There you go again with those negative waves” phase, in a red Ferrari he won in a poker game, and the Dylan track was on heavy rotation on the car’s 8-track cartridge player, then you are totally, unequivocally excused. Please proceed. There are a few hundred people around me in little short of ecstasy. Just for good measure, Kiefer finishes the evening with the catchy ‘Agave’. The guitarists trade solos, the audience claps along, and everyone is very, very happy.
I’ll go and pick up my cynicism now from the cloakroom, where I left it. This evening’s entertainment has been nothing short of a triumph. Yee haw!
Kiefer Sutherland setlist: ‘Can’t Stay Away’, ‘Something You Love’, ‘Reckless & Me’, ‘Shirley Jean’, ‘Open Road’, ‘Truth In Your Eyes’, ‘Going Home’, ‘Blame It On Your Heart’, ‘Ways To Be Wicked’, ‘Bloor Street’, ‘I’ll Do Anything’, ‘Saskatchewan’, ‘This Is How It’s Done’, ‘Rebel Wind’, ‘Honey Bee’, ‘All She Wrote’, ‘Down In A Hole’ (encore) ‘Knockin’ On Heaven’s Door’, ‘Agave’
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