HMV Empire Coventry, 22 July 2023
In a sense, Kiefer Sutherland has been with me my entire life. I grew up watching films like The Lost Boys and Stand By Me, and then I remember being gripped by his turn as Jack Bauer in 24 (it’s still top-tier TV, and well worth a watch). Hell, I even analyse his star power in my thesis! His turn to country music came as a bit of a surprise, but his two previous albums have been entertaining releases – so, when I learned he was touring to promote his third, and stopping in Coventry for the first time, I had to go see him perform. It was a phenomenal night, Sutherland as captivating a presence live as he is on screen.
I’m ashamed to say as a local, but this was my first time in the HMV Empire (I should go to live music a lot more). My father and I climbed the stairs into a venue that has been, for me, hidden away in the city centre – and what a great space it is, a room that was absolutely packed with people yet still felt incredibly intimate. We were near the back, but I still felt like we were within touching distance of the stage and the performers, and it was impressive. After a fantastic support act that got the crowd ready, it was time for the main event. A seemingly quiet start – the band coming onstage under cover of darkness – exploded into life with a rendition of ‘Ole’ Lonely Life’. It was a powerful opener, and confidently performed by the actor and musician bouncing around the stage, interacting with his fellow five band members, and deploying that familiar growl to the maximum effort – there was no real vocal acrobatics throughout the show, and rightly so, Sutherland’s voice suiting the vibe of his tunes perfectly. That lack of power did sometimes lead to him being drowned out a little by the music – not frequently enough to damper the experience, but something I wish a mic sound-check would have sorted.
The highlights came in the middle of his 17-song set
Many of the most impactful songs of the night came with introductions by Sutherland, discussing their significance to him and the stories that inspired them. Those tales of how the pandemic caused him to rethink his life struck a familiar nerve in the room, as did a rather entertaining story about how he realised that it wasn’t rude to leave a bar before closing time (which translated into the song ‘Going Home’). They typically came after two or three songs, helping shift the energy in positive ways throughout the night by providing personal insights that imbued the performances with so much more heart and colour.
For me, though, the highlights came in the middle of his 17-song set. Sutherland performed that Patty Loveless song ‘Blame It on Your Heart’, a tune he tackled for his belief that a male voice would bring a different energy to it (and rightly so). He then presented the story of ‘Bloor Street’, the name of an intersection in Canada that proved formative for Sutherland as a young man and which gives its name to the third album – it was a number where you could almost feel the nostalgia for this place in the vocals, giving it an extra punch. He followed it up with ‘County Jail Gate’, another new song from Bloor Street that was clearly inspired by his brief time in jail and which made a powerful one-two.
On the strength of this show, I hope that Sutherland returns to Coventry soon
Sutherland offered what was (to quote him) a rare glimpse of optimism in ‘So Full of Love’, the song that gave this tour its name, and which saw him reflecting on both the death of his mother and a new lease of life post-pandemic. That positivity shone through as Sutherland thanked the crowd for coming, and for supporting him as he was fortunate to have what he called “a very lucky life” – this transitioned into a funny story about his first time in a bar, which ended with him sharing a toast with the room and the crowd-pleaser ‘This Is How It’s Done’. It felt to me a natural show-closer, but wasn’t used as such. Two more songs came, neither quite as engaging, and then a fun encore featuring ‘Friday Night’ that had the actor clearly having fun on stage and hands waving in the audience.
On the strength of this show, I hope that Sutherland returns to Coventry soon – it was a fun and entertaining night, with a selection of great songs all helmed by a leading man as charismatic in the room as he is onscreen. A few minor nitpicks did not dampen my experience, and I’m thrilled that Sutherland’s tour brought a little bit of Bloor Street to us here in Coventry.