Having gone above and beyond the usual effort for the sort of discount-priced, secondary-market compilations that are the typical province of its division with the elaborate Kris Kristofferson double-CD Singer/Songwriter in the fall of 1991, Sony Music Special Products followed it in the spring of 1992 with another special Kristofferson title, Live at the Philharmonic. The album of previously unreleased recordings was drawn from a concert performed at Philharmonic Hall in New York City on December 2, 1972. It was an unusual show, packed with guest stars and including three cover songs that never appeared on Kristofferson's studio albums. The singer/songwriter, who was near the peak of his musical popularity and not yet a movie star, had just released his fourth album, Jesus Was a Capricorn, and after opening the show with John Prine's "Late John Garfield Blues," he quickly played five songs from the LP, interrupted only by one of his hits, "Loving Her Was Easier (Than Anything I'll Ever Do Again)," and a new song, "Late Again (Gettin' Over You)," that he would not put on record until 1974's Spooky Lady's Sideshow. The unfamiliarity of most of the early material made for a slow start to the concert, but there then followed half a dozen songs from earlier albums that were greeted with cheers of recognition, among them "For the Good Times" (which was tossed off perfunctorily) and "Sunday Mornin' Comin' Down"; also included was a version of Merle Haggard's right-wing anthem "Okie From Muskogee" with altered lyrics (after which Kristofferson spoke admiringly of Haggard, though not of the song). Next up, the star of the show introduced a guest star, Willie Nelson, who would have been largely unknown to a New York audience in 1972, but who was greeted generously, performing a four-song mini-set including two of his better-known compositions, "Funny How Time Slips Away" and "Night Life." Taking back the spotlight, Kristofferson soon brought on the woman he called his "better half," Rita Coolidge (though the couple would not marry for another eight months) and then another unknown country musician on the verge of stardom, Larry Gatlin. The encore song was Tom Ghent's "Whiskey, Whiskey," a 1970 country chart entry for Nat Stuckey that wouldn't turn up on a Kristofferson studio album until 1979's Shake Hands With the Devil. It's notable that "Help Me Make It Through the Night" was not performed, and neither was "Why Me." Kristofferson had just released the latter, which would become his biggest hit as a recording artist, on Jesus Was a Capricorn, but it was still months away from being issued as a single. If those omissions keep this album from being a definitive live document of Kristofferson's career, it is nevertheless a special performance that occurred at a key moment in that career.
AllMusic Review by William Ruhlmann
feat: Larry Gatlin
feat: Rita Coolidge