Monday, May 01, 2000

Energetic Prine rocks Taft Theatre

By Chris Varias
Enquirer contributor

        Because he can only play four guitar chords on a good day, John Prine has been pigeonholed as a folkie for years. Deep down he's a rock 'n' roller, and at his Taft Theatre concert Saturday night the master singer-songwriter was given rock-star treatment by a crowd that hooted, hollered, clapped and sang along for two hours straight.

        Reborn from a successful bout with neck cancer and reenergized by a new album of duets, Mr. Prine and his two-man band happily meandered through 30 years of songs, and the audience loudly appreciated each selection.

        I took in my first Prine show 23 years ago, and I've never seen a crowd so loud and wild at one of his drummerless concerts, for better and worse. (An aside to anyone who shouted a lyric right before Mr. Prine sang it: You may have thought that was a clever form of expression, but the 2,700 rest of us thought otherwise.)

        The singer was cool through it all. During an extended solo set in the middle of the show that included “The Great Compromise,” “Dear Abby,” “Donald and Lydia,” “You Got Gold,” “Jesus the Missing Years,” and “The Bottomless Lake,” people yelled song titles on top of each other, unintelligible requests coming in simultaneously by the dozens. “You want me to play 'em in that order?” Mr. Prine cracked.

        The selections were typical of any of his shows. It began with his long-time revved-up show starter “Spanish Pipedream,” which guitarist Jason Wilbur infused with calm and masterful rockabilly solos. Things wrapped up 22 songs later with “Lake Marie,” his usual 10-minute grand finale of late, and a showpiece for monster bassist David Jacques.

        But unlike some of the recent gigs the girl singer wasn't there. Iris DeMent, who sings four songs on the duet album In Spite of Ourselves, has been playing shows with Mr. Prine. She'll open up with her own set and then join Mr. Prine toward the end of his for a half dozen or so duets.

        No Iris meant room for more old tunes, and only one song from the new album, the Prine-penned title track. So the audience could follow along, he said, he spelled out how the song goes as a duet.

        “This is where I sing,” he would say before his verses, and “This is were Iris sings” before hers. “This is where I smile at Iris,” he said smiling during the wordless part. All present laughed.


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