Actor and singer-songwriter Kiefer Sutherland returned to the Birchmere, a music hall in Alexandria, Virginia, on Sunday evening (May 20, 2018). Sutherland, known for his roles in 24 and Designated Survivor, is due to release a new country music album later this year. His current tour is called Reckless, with tour dates to wrap up in North America at the end of May.
Rick Brantley, a singer-songwriter from Macon, Georgia, served as the opening act at the Birchmere. He brought a refreshing southern charm and a strong voice that resounded well in the hall setting. He played the guitar and a harmonica by himself in a set the included tracks “40 Days, 40 Nights,” “Little Bit More,” “I Still Dream of Tumbleweeds,” and “Claudette.” Brantley closed out with a cover of Otis Redding’s “Try a Little Tenderness,” which he revealed to be one of his father’s favorite songs.
Sutherland took the stage next with his band: lead guitarist Michael Gurley, guitarists Austin Vallejo and Joseph DeLeo, and Jess Calcaturra on the drums. Gurley sported a cowboy hat the entire show, while Sutherland only donned one for the opening track. Sutherland’s voice is a nice baritone with a rich gravelly aspect to it that worked equally well on country songs that range from light (“Agave”) to darker (“All She Wrote”). He entertained the audience with jokes and anecdotes between tunes.
“I was absolutely shocked to see how many songs I’d written about drinking,” he observed at one point, before singing “Going Home.”
“Agave” also references drinking and led to another Sutherland quip. “We like to save that one toward the end because when the tequila drinkers get going, we’re in trouble,” he said as the crowd laughed.
Standout original tracks of the evening were “Agave,” “Faded Pair of Jeans,” and “Reckless and Me.” The latter (and new) tune demonstrated strong guitar chords and layered vocals that give a promising foretaste of how the upcoming Reckless album will turn out.
Sutherland even included some memorable cover songs, such as Tom Petty’s “Honeybee,” Merle Haggard’s “Bottle Let Me Down,” and Bob Dylan’s “Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door.” He had the pleasure of meeting Haggard once and fondly recalled being offered a guitar by the country legend, an offer he refused. Sutherland said artists like Haggard and Willie Nelson really appealed to him because their songs “were deeply personal about themselves and often not flattering.”
His track “This Is How It’s Done” fell into the category of a personal song because it focuses on his first experiences of drinking at the bar. “It literally felt like a war zone … It was like the circus came to town and everything made sense,” Sutherland recalled about the early days.
Sutherland and Brantley came to the Birchmere together last year for a concert. I thought the acoustics were a little better that time, because sometimes it was a little difficult to make out the lyrics on Sunday. Sutherland told the same stories last year and with greater detail than this year. It’s something to keep in mind if you’re a repeat concertgoer and expect a lot of newer material.
That being said, this year’s concert was still enjoyable and it even felt much more intimate. Sutherland covered a great deal of the stage, paying attention to attendees on both sides of the music hall. The biggest (and best) surprises of the evening were the occasions when he stepped off the stage and down into the audience space with his guitar, walking between a few of the front tables.
If you’re a fan of Kiefer Sutherland’s work as an actor, don’t miss your chance to check out his music. His 2016 album is called Down in a Hole, and Reckless and Me is forthcoming this year. The North American leg of his tour concludes in New York on May 28, but fans in Europe can see Sutherland in concert in June.