"I'd like to call on an old friend," said Kris Kristofferson, introducing his former wife and singing partner Rita Coolidge at Wolf Trap last night. While the duo's collection of cozy ballads was clearly the evening's sentimental highlight, the strongest performances were Kristofferson's alone.
Supported by a crackerjack band led by Billy Swan, he opened with a vibrant "Me and Bobby McGee" and then spent the better part of 90 minutes delivering his best songs. For the most part those songs either predated his Hollywood stardom or were composed in the last year or two. The confessional intimacy of early love ballads like "Help Me Make It Through the Night" and "For the Good Times" contrasted sharply with the harder political edge of his recent songs about American involvement in Nicaragua, among other things. But in each case the lyrics provoked powerful, lasting images. And while he's never been much of a singer, Kristofferson's voice was particularly effective on the more narrative songs, including "They Killed Him" and "Why Me, Lord?"
As for Coolidge, she faithfully recreated several of her hits during the opening set, but overall her performance was more stylish than soulful.