No matter how deep into the dark pit of the psyche the lyrics reached, the mood and the spirits were soaring among the hundreds who packed Slim’s on a cold and windy Good Friday. “Lots of love in the house,” declared one smiling fan, between the short set by the dreamy-voiced Mother Hips and the roiling, raunchy rock ‘n’ roll of show-closer Chuck Prophet.
The occasion was to celebrate the release of Don’t Let The Bastards Get You Down, a new album paying tribute to one of modern country music’s most groundbreaking songwriters. Eight of the album’s seventeen artists were represented at the 3-1/2-hour show, which was put together by Nick Tangborn (whose Jackpine Social Club label released the disc). While the majority of the performers reside in the Bay Area (Prophet, the Mother Hips, Tom Heyman, Mover, Oranger), Ed Ackerson of Polara came in from Minneapolis, and Southern California was represented by the band Dart and singer-songwriter John Doe.
Each performer played their Kristofferson album track along with a brief set of their own choosing. Doe’s solo set, which sat smack in the middle of the evening, alternated between bursts of energy and pensive quietude. It was a low-profile gig for Doe, who chose here to showcase (along with his stark, straight-in-the-eyes reading of “Me And Bobby McGee”) some of his more recent material. His voice is somewhat dustier around the edges than it was during the days of X, but as a vocalist, he’s still striking and distinct, having gained a more masterful degree of control, depth, and tone.
Dart and Oranger kept the volume high and strong; the latter (with Polara’s Ackerson and Dan Carr of Preston School Of Industry sitting in) set a psychedelicized tone with a magnificent, shimmering instrumental version of “Casey’s Last Ride”, one of the album’s highlights. Mover added country-rock flavor with their cover of “Jesus Was A Capricorn”, and the Mother Hips turned in a gentle, soulful reading of the hangover classic “Sunday Mornin’ Comin’ Down”.
With his deep, gravel-edged vocals closest in tone to Kristofferson’s own than anyone else on the album, guitarist Tom Heyman (formerly of Go To Blazes) worked up a beautifully slow and thick reading of “Sugar Man”, with a three-piece horn section and keyboardist adding depth to the arrangements. The highlight of Heyman’s set was his own “Bottle Full Of Wishes”, a full-bodied version that was loose, dirty, and ragged in all the right ways.
Prophet was the evening’s headliner, busting out a sharp and crisp “Loving Her Was Easier” before launching into songs from his forthcoming album No Other Love — among them the swampy “I Bow Down And Pray To Every Woman I See” and the touching “After The Rain”, a duet with his wife, Stephanie Finch. He also tossed in a couple nuggets from the past, including a rowdy “Look Both Ways” from his 1990 debut Brother Aldo.
Prophet and his band were joined by all the performers for a closing rendition of “Why Me” that, while threatening to bust apart at the seams, managed to hold together with more than a little spit and prayer. “My soul’s in your hand,” rang Kristofferson’s lyrics. A spirited moment indeed.