There's a line in Merle Haggard's "Are the Good Times Really Over (I Wish a Buck Was Still Silver)" that has become a daily affirmation of sorts for us. It's not the pre-parenthetical part of the title, although we've wondered that often enough. It's this one: "Are we rolling downhill like a snowball that's headed for hell?" Over the years, for better or worse, our answer has usually been "yes." We have yet to hit bottom (assuming there is one), and wonder how close we are with each passing day. But every so often, something happens that lets you put the brakes on that snowball for a couple of hours and come as close as you're ever going to get in this over-fraught, overwrought day and age to actually relaxing. Merle Haggard and Kris Kristofferson did that for us Tuesday night. While the rest of the Gulf Coast was celebrating Mardi Gras, the two remaining non-Willie outlaw survivors, combined age 145, made the world go away. They did it using nothing but a band that might have needed another rehearsal or two - except for the guy whose sole directive was to hit his tambourine with a drumstick every now and then - some ragged but pointed guitar solos (most from Haggard or a guy we think is his son; they never introduced the band) and a set list larded with lyrics that cut closer than the bone. Kristofferson's "Loving Her Was Easier (Than Anything I'll Ever Do Again)," to name just one example, sent deeper shivers through us than the sub-freezing weather outside. You don't sit through words like "Wakin' in the mornin' to the feelin' of her fingers on my skin/ Wipin' out the traces of the people and the places that I've been," delivered in an atmosphere of pillow-talk intimacy, and come away unaffected, a fact the crowd acknowledged by singing along under its collective breath. Give or take a catcall or two, the audience was as quiet and well-behaved as we've seen in Houston for a long time - after they got into the venue. Unfortunately, they're still not off the hook. Some sort of printing snag left a lot of tickets for Tuesday's show unscannable, meaning a lot of people had to get back in line and did not remember to bring their manners with them the second time around. Aftermath knows such situations can be frustrating, but venting on the box-office staff is like yelling at the receptionist when your doctor's office can't schedule an appointment for you quite as soon as you'd like. In other words, IT'S NOT THEIR FAULT. More importantly, the longer you bitch and moan about having guests in town or how you shouldn't have to put up with this after paying $300 means it's going to take that much longer to get the situation straightened out. And it did get straightened out. Everybody made it into the venue, eventually, and the sum total of the logistical mix-up was that Kristofferson, Haggard and their band started at 8:30 instead of 8. Thereafter, the set that sprawled from "Think I'll Just Stay Here and Drink" and "Me and Bobby McGee" through "Big City," "Ramblin' Fever" and "Help Me Make It Through the Night," and, although it could have easily gone on for another two hours, wound down with "Workin' Man Blues," "Sunday Morning Coming Down" and "Why Me, Lord?" straightened us out. It was worth putting on your cleanest dirty shirt.
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