Prine show diary:
The Prine & DeMent set in Whitewater WI
She spoke of her mother who will turn 90 in a few weeks, and of the weather and how she liked playing with John Prine. During the last song one of the tech's came out on stage and plugged in a speaker... now that made all the difference in the world to the people in the back of Young Auditorium, immediately, you could hear Iris and her music louder. She is just fabulous, and I couldn't wait to hear her on stage with John later. No time for an encore (I imagine because she had several duets with John planned during his set) Iris bid us save driving and said "Promise you won't run us over on the road"
The houselights came on and many went scrambling for the doors -
I stood and watched the crowd, the guys on stage - and I ran up to the stage a couple of times when someone from the Oh Boy crew recognized me (I love those guys). In the front row was a woman and her son that were curious as to why I kept stepping up to the stage to hug on the crew. The woman had participated in the Polar Plunge earlier that day, and she also worked at Young... she figured that all of us in the first 8 rows were friends and family of John's because these seats were marked as "John Prine's" of course these were for the pre-sale but, as usual, when you work at a place, you aren't necessarily given all the details of everything. Any way... she had to laugh and relate to me that her son had only really seen John on Album covers, and he pretty much only really knew of the earlier album covers. The boy was expecting a 24 year old Prine to appear on stage. When he saw me keep jumping out of my seat to go hug someone he turned to his mother and ask her... get this... If I was John's mot her... she was laughing and I was briefly stunned and began thinking I'd better start eating better and go check out the latest Clairol colors.... then it became funny when she related the album covers and her son's mind set.
This was such a great venue... I mean it looked small from front to back... everyone was close, John and Iris couldn't have looked like spots on the stage, I think truly that there wasn't a bad seat in the house. When you get the chance to see him in a venue like this, jump on it. The seats were from side to side... probably a hundred or more seats in a row. Really wonderful.
There was a quiet kind of anxious mulling around as the light faded to black. John strolled out on stage in his 2 shades of black, grinning from ear to ear starting off the show with Spanish Pipedream.
The crowd was appreciative and respectful, clapping when he wasn't talking or singing. John walked back and gave Dave Jacques this funny look and Dave switched from his stand-up bass to his great looking blue bass guitar - "We only sound like this in February" he said, and the trio exchanged glances - sort of waiting for Prine's next move.
They began to play one of the best versions of Picture Show I have ever heard live. My jaw dropped as did Shane's - we weren't sure why we were so surprised, but the song sounded almost new - it was that good.
John strummed his guitar, looked out at the audience saying "I must have 5 songs that sound like this" and into The Speed of the Sound of Loneliness he went, followed by Please Don't Bury Me... during the last verse he stepped out to the end of the stage and played up close and personal, he was here to stay for awhile and get things warm.
About this time his voice started to sound weak, scratchy, enough to make me wince and look back to his table for that bottle of cough syrup. I imagine the dry cold winter weather isn't the best thing for a throat when you're trying to sing.
"I have a frog in my throat" Prine says in a sandpaper against rough wood way. "This is a song, written in the midwest about the midwest for the midwest " Storm Windows, you know, even when his throat is dry - it gives whatever song he is singing another view, and Storm Windows was picture pretty perfect done with a salt on the ice throat.
He began to talk about his good friend Steve Goodman, there was a spattering of applause - Prine looked out and said "Go ahead" and we cheered for Steve - it was a souvenir moment, left a lump in my throat and wonder in my head of how things might have been if Steve were still here. He played Souvenirs as if the same thought may have been crossing his mind too. So much feeling.
"Good thing for guitar capos or all my songs would be in the same key" he says as he adjusted his capo.
He told the other "Fish & Whistle" story about how he wrote it for a particularly stubborn producer. "Well, I'll show him" grins Prine, "I'll just write the worst song ever written." After the first hundred times or so, Prine says he kind of likes the song now. Jason was just wailing on mandolin, I don't know if it was the sound in this venue, or what, but the bass and mandolin along with Prine's guitar sounded as if the songs had been rewritten, I could hear every instrument, and it was so much better than I had ever remembered hearing before.
"I wrote this one with a my buddy Roger Cook from Bristol, England at the kitchen table in Nashville. I usually like to write alone - I had my wife in mind when we wrote this ... and I was hoping that he didn't!" They played one of the best renditions of Glory of True Love that I had ever heard. Jason just played the hell out of this song.
It was followed up by Taking a Walk - and one of the highlights of show... John made it through the first verse, then began the second "There's a girl in the white house, I don't even know her name" - he opened is mouth, and nothing came out - I wanted to yell the lyrics, but It was just too much fun watching him finish the line with "it's a doggone shame" - he looked up as if he was searching his mind for his place in the song... shook his head, grinned as the music played "I know this part" .... "I'm taking a walk... I'm gonna regroup" - it was just hilariously wonderful. I suppose if you had written as many songs as Prine, and memorized that many plus more, every now and then, you're gonna forget a few words or two. He forgets lines with such humor - looking like a little kid that forgot the words to the pledge of allegiance or something as he stands there before us, grinning hat sh*t eating grin of his. (Yes John, I love these moments... and like those blankets of long ago, a little mistake now and then shows that you are only human) Gotta tell you though, Dave and Jason can give the Carol Lee singers from the studio version of this song a run for their money... they sure do sound like there are more than two voices singing on the chorus.
His voice was warm, his singing voice on this night was beautiful - I know, it's hard to imagine beautiful and Prine's voice in the same sentence, but it was. It always seems that when he gets a frog in his throat, he can still sing without any noticeable effects... but when he talks you can hear the frog.... I don't mind and I'm guessing it is just irritating more so than painful for him. Did I mention that I thought this was the best concert I had been to since the last best concert I had been to of his?
He sang "Angel From Montgomery" for Bonnie Raitt followed by "Long Monday" where he got a little stuck on "stuck" like the tick of a clock - but did the whole song from the back of his memory.
"Hey Crusher, you here tonight? This is for you" and from the back of Young Auditorium came this roar of "Yeah Crusher" - Prine shot back "You got your own fan club here, too" This was Crusher's 88th or 89th, maybe 90th Prine show, plus being a buddy of John's - well it was just the coolest thing when John sang such an emotional "Mexican Home" from Crusher's top ten favorite Prine songs list. It had me all choked up... and I won't ramble on about that big Burly Guy from Burlington being in touch with his feelings and shedding a few tears or anything... don't want to embarrass him, you know. Oh John sang it so slow and sad, I am getting a lump in my throat just thinking about how beautifully heavy it rested upon my heart. Prine ended with "That was for you Crusher" and he replied, with "Hi Buddy"
John went on to talk about how big the Chicago Theatre is that he played the night before and how much he enjoyed playing at this venue. He talked about living in Chicago and taking a trip up to Baraboo WI and how his Father had told him that a train went off the tracks and fell into the lake there... and how it was never found and was a "Bottomless Lake" before the last line of the song John said that if you are writing a story song it better have a good ending if it can't have a good ending, it better have a moral..."Here's the moral" he smiled as stepped to the end of the stage, sang the last verse, grinned some more and did a little head bow.
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