“I’m proud to say Bob Dylan cut this next one,” Kris Kristofferson remarked, before easing into his 1985 tune They Killed Him.
It felt altogether appropriate that, on a day when Dylan was honored with the Nobel Prize in Literature, one of his contemporaries, collaborators and friends would allude to the occasion, however briefly — even moreso when considering Kristofferson’s own gift for carving poetry out of the seemingly mundane.
Indeed, much of Kristofferson’s Thursday night performance at Bass Hall had a distinctly reverential air, thanks in part to the presence of the Texas Gentlemen, arrayed behind him on the naked stage.
The Texas Gentlemen is an elastic collective featuring some of the best players in North Texas: McKenzie Smith, Chase McGillis, Daniel Creamer, Beau Bedford, Matt McDonald, Jeff Dazey, Ryan Ake, Nik Lee, Wesley Geiger and Paul Cauthen, who drifted on and off-stage Thursday, as the songs required, to provide sturdy, gorgeous accompaniment.
The piano, organ, guitar, drums and saxophone would slowly coalesce around Kristofferson’s gnarled but still potent voice, creating an electric sensation of the past fusing with the present.
Time and again, the room would seem to bloom — a feeling of dawn breaking, just barely visible but discernible, behind some of the best songs ever written. The Texas Gentlemen were ideal accompanists, skillfully teasing out subtle depths and never overwhelming Kristofferson’s words.
Thursday marked the singer-songwriter’s first Fort Worth appearance in two years, and on this trip through town, he’s also hitting Dallas (he performs, again with the Texas Gentlemen, Friday at Strauss Square downtown).
Kristofferson is 80 now, yet he shrugs off the ravages of age — his wizened voice would reach for notes, wobble, but hold firm — and plows forward, conveying his songs about last chances, lost loves, regrets, remembrances, bruised and cracked souls with a rough elegance that is breathtaking.
The night consisted of two roughly 45-minute sets, split by a half-hour intermission, and Kristofferson did not waste much time, often tumbling out of one song and into another before the Texas Gentlemen had arrived at the final notes.
There was a sense of feeling each other out in the first few numbers, and the second half of the set was notably tighter, with Bedford, his hands gliding over the keys of the B3 organ, serving as ersatz conductor.
Many of Kristofferson’s beloved characters ambled across the Bass Hall stage Thursday, flickering to life in classics like Me and Bobby McGee, Casey’s Last Ride, Best of All Possible Worlds, Jody and the Kid and Jesus Was a Capricorn. The sizable audience would respond with an ovation or two, the sounds of pleasurable recognition rippling through the room when Kristofferson began intoning a favorite: “Take the ribbon from your hair ...”
Upon the announcement of Dylan’s Nobel Prize honor, some pundits had groused about whether the lowly form of expression known as rock music really qualified as anything approaching fine literature.
Yet, sitting in the dark of Bass Hall, it seemed an absurd argument on its face: What were Dylan and his brother-in-arms Kris Kristofferson doing if not functioning as poets?
Intuitive souls, mining life, seeking beauty in the simple pleasures, and using these unremarkable moments to reflect the glory of being alive back at an audience — how is such work to be considered anything less than art?