I've never seen "24," the celebrated TV drama starring Kiefer Sutherland. Count me in the nation's small minority. Not my cup of tea.
Sutherland the Actor has never made much of an impression on me, despite having been in some impressionable films. "Stand By Me," "The Lost Boys" and both "Young Guns" caught the rabid attention of many a budding bad boy back in the 1980s. They were a rougher alternative to the "Brat Pack." Rebels with heart, ignored pain and simmering aggression. That Sutherland was a bit of a bad boy himself, no less carrying the weight (one can easily guess) of being a famous actor's son, didn't hurt his brand.
So it follows suit that he would wind up making a country album, right? Celebrity narratives love a curveball. I'm not shocked.
Sutherland the Singer tells a new chapter of a life well lived. Wearing a wrapped scarf, wide-brim hat and sensible jeans, he is now the grown-up dad of his former film roles. He's seen darkness, spent the night in jail, drowned in booze and who knows what else, and has lived to tell the tale. An American tragedy turned American dream.
Sutherland brought his new gig to the Bear's Den at Seneca Niagara Casino on Saturday night, equipped with a four-piece band, north of a dozen original songs and a few covers. It was a pleasant program with not much to speak of, except the thrill, for some, of sharing air with a former fake counter-terrorist. Even fans of his 2016 release, "Down in a Hole," might not have grasped his shtick, which appears still in development. But give him some time to find his voice, or even warm it up, and he might have something truer to offer. Any artist should be allowed that grace period.
So far, his songs are too thin and simple-minded to take this seriously. Closing my eyes for a purely sonic test, neither the lyrics, melodies nor performance (including that of his decent but unimpressive band) were convincing as a headlining act. Privilege is obviously at play here, the elephant in this intimate room. He would never have booked this gig if he weren't Kiefer Sutherland the Actor. And he might not have changed many minds given the chance. This is troublesome but hardly new.
The man tries, I'll give him that much. This must mean a lot to him. He's gracious about this moment onstage, and offers genuine passion for storytelling but barely the chops to translate that into stories. Forgive the insulting comparison – and I offer this for comparison and not shock – but it felt like a karaoke act.
"Not Enough Whiskey," "Shirley Jean" and "All She Wrote," to name just three, are an average attempt at a country act, clichés for clichés' sake. His delivery doesn't hide any cards, either. His vocals are technically weak, and more concerning, emotionally empty; he makes all the sounds of a country singer, but not with the fiery conviction of a man who's dug up his own bones. What a relief when – with humble deference, mind you – he offered Tom Petty's "Honey Bee," a far superior piece of writing. That felt right, for once.
Let's hope he sticks with it. The guy wants to make music. Can't fault him for that. But he needs to do more homework, scratch a little deeper. Maybe watch one of his old movies. If not, he might embarrass himself. I hesitate to say "stick to your day job." But you know the rest.