Kris Kristofferson needn't have gone through a screen test to land his role as the resistance leader in "Amerika." He could have just invited the miniseries' producers to a concert like the one he gave Monday at the Crazy Horse Steak House in Santa Ana, where the singer-songwriter-actor projected an intensely personal commitment to liberty and justice for all.
Besides forcefully showcasing his ideological zeal--nearly every song included the word "freedom"--the 90-minute set demonstrated Kristofferson's renewed commitment to his songwriting, which has taken a back seat in recent years to his acting career.
The performance, in which he was backed by the seven-man Borderlords band, wasn't the clear-cut victory he needed to completely allay concerns that his songwriting peaked with his early-'70s hits like "Help Me Make It Through the Night," "For the Good Times" and "Sunday Morning Coming Down."
Still, there were encouraging signs: He told the crowd he is now sober, and about half the songs from his current "Repossessed" album--his first solo effort in six years--indicate that all his best material isn't necessarily behind him.
Kristofferson's passion for the material frequently overcame such structural deficiencies as the clumsy, cliched patriotism of "Anthem '84." And he proved he can still write a compelling lyric in "Love Is the Way":
Deep in the heart of the infinite darkness
A tiny blue marble is spinning through space
Born in the splendor of God's holy vision
And sliding away like a tear down his face.
For a verse as haunting as that, Kristofferson can be forgiven a lot--maybe even "Heaven's Gate."