Review + Setlist: Merle Haggard and Kris Kristofferson at the Fabulous Fox Theatre, Wednesday, March 9

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At 9:30 p.m. or so on Wednesday evening at the Fabulous Fox, the band was playing the crowd out with an instrumental reprise of "Okie From Muskogee." The house lights came up, the singers had gone and the stagehands were making their move. There would be no encore for Merle Haggard and Kris Kristofferson.

They'd already received a few standing o's.

The pairing of the two weathered and leathery icons, backed by Haggard's imperishable band the Strangers (featuring Haggard's son Benjamin on hot lead guitar), was a study in contrasts, black attire for all not withstanding. Merle still wears his own kind of hat - a floppy black fedora tonight - and his own kind of shades, and Kris, at age 72 (one year less than the Hag), still wears his sex appeal and laureate's charm with a steely squint, a rakish smile and a thick silver mane. "You all are part of this dream I'm having," he said towards the end. "I can't believe I'm up on stage with Merle Haggard."

That modesty wasn't for show. Kristofferson knows that as a singer, musician and recording artist, he's not in Haggard's league. No one is. As a songwriter, of course, he knows he can more than hold his own. He opened the night alone on stage, with just his Gibson acoustic guitar and a harmonica rack, singing "Shipwrecked in the '80s" and dedicating it to the veterans of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars. His voice was a raging mudslide of phlegm and emotion, the kind of emotion that belongs only to the soul who wrote the great song after song he'd sing this evening.

Kristofferson introduced Haggard as the "Greatest American singer-songwriter," comparing him, properly, to Hank Williams and Woody Guthrie, and then the full lineup of the Strangers - piano, bass, drums, fiddle, electric guitar, and dobro, played by senior Stranger Norman Hamlet - and its leader took the stage, lighting into "Silver Wings," Haggard's longtime starter. Merle's own voice bears the scars of time, but beautifully, still so supple and effortless, only tempered on the high notes and ravaged wonderfully on the low growl he gave the words "roaring out of sight." Kristofferson strummed along, as he would all night, smiled, and let out an audible, "Whoah!" as the grand opener came to an end.

The two swapped songs all night, with the selection naturally favoring Merle. It's his band and his show, ultimately, and even if he'd sung every number in the night's 23-song set, the surface of his individual American songbook would still only be grazed. Merle focused on the hits, throwing only a few curveballs - the gorgeous "Back to Earth" and the newish "I Am What I Am" - and let his guitar playing, still so fast and expressive, do most of the talking. When a spike of feedback jolted him at the start of "It's Been a Great Afternoon," he stopped and chided the soundman, and then adlibbed a story about "writing these songs at sea level in the summer, when I was in my 20s" and joked about how strange it was to sing them in his 40s.

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5 comments
DGD
DGD

I was on seated on the floor about half way back. I thought the sound was awesome. Merle came out loud and clear. I Was actually surprised his voice was so clear and pure for his age. Kris really sounded rough. I mean more so than usual. But together they pulled off a great show.I've heard "the show must go on" but Kris really should take some time off and get better.I guess when you get their age they are so grateful to still be performing that they dont care if they are sick.Worth the money!

Davicikid
Davicikid

I agree about the speakers and mixing...unacceptable. As for KK sounding so so, oh well. It was a privilege to be there. And KK's really twanging those bass notes on his acoustic brought some interesting arrangements to Merle's smoother songs. I enjoyed that.

SLB
SLB

I thought the show was fantastic. Poor Kris was sick, butI wasn't disapponted at all! But I agree it needed to be "turned up" a bit. I had a hard time hearing some things, and I'm young compared to much of the audience. (Rear Orchestra section)

CMB
CMB

I was at the concert, and was really disappointed. Kris Kristofferson's voice was awful, he shouldn't have been on stage, in that condition. The acoustics or speaker system wasn't as good as it should have been either, several in our group couldn't hear about 25% of the lyrics and words from Merle. Being a big C&W fan, I had been looking forward to this night, for quite some time. For the money we paid for 4 Mez tickets, I'm disappointed.

Maire_Siobhan
Maire_Siobhan

It was obvious that Kris was sick, but he's a pro, and the show must go on. He was sucking on an inhaler and blowing and wiping his nose all through the show, ghod bless him. I was in orchestra section, center, and could see that clearly. I thought the sound was excellent, and orchestra isn't even the "sweet spot" for the sound, by any means. I was amazed at the clarity of Merle's voice, in fact. Do you often have problems hearing lyrics in a big venue like that?

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