Concert Review: John Prine at the Victory Theatre, Evansville, IN
October 24, 2003
It’s tempting to give into the urge to rank the John Prine concert we saw in Evansville according to the songs on the set list. His 30+-year career, combined with his quirky songwriting and his cult-like following, make it inevitable that people come to his shows with expectations. About an hour before the performance, Keith and I were developing our laundry list of the songs Prine would have to do for it to be a “good show.” Judging from the constant thunder of song titles being shouted from the audience at any quiet moment, I’d say we weren’t the only ones. Prine seemed to take it all in stride; after one particularly long and noisy round of requests, he grinned and said, “I know ‘em all.”
The October 24th show at the Victory Theatre in Evansville brought the paradox of Prine to life. On the one hand, he’s got a knack for writing silly, catchy tunes that stick in your brain. On the other, he’s produced profound and personal songs about social issues, love, the perils of relationships, and the struggles of every day living. He’s also got quite a few songs that actually combine the comedic and the personal. On the one hand, he’s an obscure performer, unknown to the public at large and shunned by major labels. On the other, he packed the theatre with fans, ranging from the twenty-something frat boys who sat in front of us to the aging hippies across the aisle, all screaming with enthusiasm and singing along with nearly every song.
Prine’s voice has gotten rougher over the years, but he’s still got the stamina to pull off a set that was over two and a half hours long, including a four-song encore and an extended solo acoustic set in the middle of the show. And he’s certainly not afraid to let people know where he stands either, changing the judge’s name in “Illegal Smile” to Ashcroft, and joking about paranoid patriotism after singing “Your Flag Decal Won’t Get You Into Heaven.”
If we were to judge the show solely based on our wish lists, we’d both have to say it was a good show. Between the two of us, there was only one “must play” song that didn’t get performed. But to leave it at that would be an injustice, since it would ignore the many other wonderful parts of the set: unexpected treats (“Speed of the Sound of Loneliness”); forgotten favorites (“Dear Abby”); a Carter Family cover; and a song from the album in progress. From the opening strains of “Spanish Pipe Dream” to the rousing version of “Paradise” (with special guest appearance by Prine’s brother Billy) that closed the show, every song hit home, resonating with the audience and usually sparking a passionate sing-along.
Opening act Todd Snider, another artist on Prine’s Oh Boy! label, was new to us, but not for long. His short, enthusiastic set was enough to convince us both that he’s another talent unjustly overlooked by the music business. I have a feeling there will be several Todd Snider CD’s making their way into the house in the very near future.