TVD Live: Kiefer Sutherland at the Birchmere, 5/23

PHOTOS: RICHIE DOWNS | Among the perks of being a successful actor is the ability, at the drop of a hat, to fulfill every vague rock star notion you ever had. Unlike most struggling artists, there is no barrier to hiring a decent band, recording an album, or booking a tour that sells out based simply on your celebrity, giving fans the opportunity to see you in the flesh in their own towns, even if you don’t happen to be doing the thing that made you famous—acting—but happen to be singing or playing music instead.

It’s a formula that’s worked for Kevin Bacon, Keanu Reeves, David Duchovny, Bruce Willis, Russell Crowe, and Kevin Costner. So why not Kiefer Sutherland? The star of TV’s 24 and the current Designated Survivor is spending time away from the camera on an extensive tour to promote his album Down in a Hole, produced by Jude Cole, that was released last summer. His show at the Birchmere in Alexandria, VA, Tuesday had been sold out for weeks.

With a solid band behind him that handled nearly all of the music, Sutherland, 50, still carried an acoustic guitar, occasionally switching to electric, though neither seemed to add a lot to the total sound. For an actor who has built a career going from theatrical whisper to big declarative shouts—the essence of his approach to Jack Bauer on 24—there was much less range in his singing voice. His aim is to deliver the simple lyrics he devised, but it doesn’t come with much in terms of timbre or style.

That’s more apparent when he throw in a few covers—Merle Haggard’s “The Bottle Let Me Down,” the concluding “Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door,” or Gordon Lightfoot’s “Sundown,” which also suffered from a wrong-headed arrangement. Let’s just say that as a singer, Sutherland is a pretty good actor. Indeed, when he came on stage with a vest, guitar, and oversized flat-brimmed hat, it all seemed more like costume than being himself.

He claims that the sentiments in his album—the entirety of which he played in the show—are among his most personal, about the death of a loved one (“Truth in Your Eyes”), lost love (“Calling Out Your Name”), and drinking (“Not Enough Whiskey”). But they came out in a generic way. In “Going Home,” he says, he had “nowhere to run, nowhere to hide.” He had a knack of picking the right cover songs, down to a Tom Petty rarity, “Honey Bee” that his band rocked out.

It was surprising to read, after the fact, that the Down in a Hole project was meant to be a country release, since there was very little of that on display in the live show. Instead, it was more bar band rock. But maybe that has something to say about what’s considered country these days.

Though he was a stone’s throw from the setting of his current TV show that’s just been picked up for a new season, Designated Survivor TV President Tom Kirkman had nothing to say about the actual White House or Capitol. Sutherland was most engaging, however, when he spoke sparingly about his own life, growing up the son of a famous actor in Toronto. He continues to be a very compelling actor in most of what he does, but moonlighting as a singer may be more for his benefit than ours. It all allowed Rick Brantley to make a bigger impact in opening the show solo. By the end, he got to borrow Sutherland’s band to back him as well.

RICK BRANTLEY

KIEFER SUTHERLAND SETLIST
Can’t Stay Away
I’ll Do Anything
Truth in Your Eyes
Not Enough Whiskey
Going Home
Shirley Jean
The Bottle Let Me Down
Saskatchewan
Calling Out Your Name
Ways to Be Wicked
Honey Bee
All She Wrote
Down in a Hole
Rebel Wind
Sundown
Knockin’ On Heaven’s Door

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