Kiefer Sutherland concert review – Cleveland, OH – Grog Shop – April 19, 2016
Music, much like life, is measured against expectations.
Prime example: I saw Bruno Mars perform at the 400-capacity Grog Shop in 2010. My mind was blown. “How is this guy stuck at the Grog Shop?” (No disrespect intended. Great staff. Great place to a catch show.)
Fast forward to 2012 and beyond, my thoughts turned to “Why are Bruno’s annoying singles hogging the airwaves?” “This clown is hosting Saturday Night Live?” “Sold out the show at The Q? For real?” “Super Bowl Half time show? C’mon, man. This guy is the Cleveland Browns of music.”
Why the change of heart? Because an act with a $25 ticket at the Grog Shop is not held to the same standard as someone who commands $150+ per ticket at an arena and featured prominently during the most-watched television event of the year.
The problem is, when Kiefer Sutherland announced a 50-date country music tour ahead of his upcoming debut album release, ‘Down In A Hole,’ nobody knew what to expect. Many actors have tried their hand at music, and while a small minority have succeeded, for every Steve Martin there are ten Steven Seagals. Sutherland is one of the trailblazers of actors trying to find his way in country music.
A successful actor with a track record in music being 100% behind the scenes thus far made it hard to determine where to set the bar. Then again, from the genre that has brought us unlistenable acts like Rascal Flatts and Toby Keith, can the standards really be that high?
“The following takes place between 9:28 PM and 10:42 PM”
Sutherland entered the stage decked out in full country music garb, with a cowboy hat and vest to boot. The near-capacity crowd greeted him with rousing cheers, while some randomly shouted out titles of movies and television shows or names of characters he portrayed therein.
Sutherland and his band opened the show with “Can’t Stay Away,” which immediately answered the question of “Can this guy even sing?” with a resounding “YES!” While not an altogether original tone, Kiefer’s voice, though hard to pinpoint a specific artist comparison, is more so a throwback to the old-school country sound as opposed to the Luke Bryan types of today’s pop-dominated country scene.
Early in the set, the number of ’24’ / Jack Bauer references increased with each song on the setlist. Heckles included “I love you Jack Bauer” and “Damnit, Chloe!” – This writer’s personal favorite was another catchphrase from the hit Fox television series, “There’s no time!” After performing “Calling Out Your Name,” Sutherland quietly (very non-Jack Bauer-like) smiled and said “Damnit, Chloe,” as he laughed. The audience went bananas.
The 49-year-old Sutherland started the show with a string of nine original tunes. Songs that, save perhaps his first single, “Not Enough Whiskey,” had never been heard by anyone in the audience. A ballsy move, indeed. Most newcomers would have thrown in “Folsom Prison Blues,” or at the very least, a Willie Nelson deep-cut early in the set to give the crowd something to sing along to. The lack of audience familiarity with the music, often a challenge for an artist, seemed to work in Sutherland’s favor.
For whatever reason, fans clamor to get a glimpse into the personal aspect of their Hollywood heroes. Keifer’s songs, which he described in a pre-show interview with CleveRock.com as “incredibly personal” and “the closest thing I’ve ever had to a journal or diary,” give fans a direct glimpse into his deepest thoughts and emotions. He explained to the audience that he wrote the songs over a ten-year period but that they told the story of his life. “I didn’t realize how many of the songs would be about drinking,” Sutherland joked.
He played songs that everyone can relate to, with lyrics that read “Most of the people that I have known, have let me down or caused me pain. Most of the people that have known me, too, could probably say the same” (“My Best Friend”), and the overused country song cliche of drinking to forget a former lover (“Not Even Whiskey”). Sutherland opened up about the time he spent behind bars, telling the audience, “You think the first they take from you is your clothes. No, the first they take is your dignity” before playing “Shirley Jean.”
Kiefer threw in a few covers on the night. While my money was on Johnny Cash and Willie Nelson, Sutherland opted for Tom Petty (“Honey Bee”) and Gordon Lightfoot (“Sundown”), doing both songs justice. The night ended with a third cover, Bob Dylan’s “Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door.” The packed Grog Shop roared in approval as the up-and-coming country singer quickly disappeared into the night.
While fans of the gambling-nature who attended the show would have undoubtedly varied wagers on Keifer’s musical prowess from “very little” to “high hopes” and everything in between, everyone walked away from tonight a winner tonight, with a payout exceeding well over the $15 price of admission.