John Prine/Old Crow Medicine Show, Atlanta’s Fox Theatre 2/25/11
Seeing John Prine and Old Crow Medicine Show at the Fabulous Fox Theatre in Atlanta left me wondering what to be most amazed about – the new guys kicking ass, the old guy taking names or the magnificence of the venue. This was my second concert in the Fox – first was in ’85 for Dire Straits – and it is a great place to see a show: huge opera house style theatre with a starry night sky overhead and castle walls around the sides. But this time, like in ’85, the artists took center stage and captured my amazement. While OCMS was on stage I thought that it would be hard for Prine to top them, but old guy came out and asserted himself with quite a show. Near the end, when the young guys came out to play the last two songs with the old guy, I gave up my comparison (it was apples and Bruised Oranges, anyway) and was simply glad I came.
We traveled to Atlanta with another couple, and on the way we talked about how long we had been listening to John Prine. The winner in that contest was my friend Andrew who saw Prine in Oxford, MS, in the mid-seventies with Steve Goodman. That would be 35+ years ago. (Andrew’s a bit older than me, but not by as much as I would like to think.) My first memories of Prine are from an 8 track version of Prime Prine that someone loaned me. I loved the “Dear Abby” song – there was something about the way he talked on the live recording that did it for me way back then. “Illegal Smile”, “Sam Stone”, “Please Don’t Bury Me” and “Grandpa Was A Carpenter” pulled me all the way in and I’ve been a fan ever since. But I didn’t see Prine live until a few years ago at Telluride. He was not 100% that day, but he was still great. Prine played A.P. Carter’s “Bear Creek Blues” on the Town Park Stage just in front of a stream called Bear Creek. The sun was setting over Telluride as he sang the part about “watching the sun go down.” The temps there drop about 20 degrees at sunset on a pretty summer day, but that wasn’t what gave me chill bumps.
Old Crow Medicine Show was new to our friends (other than the song “Wagon Wheel”, which everyone seems to know), but we had seen them before and have been listening to their stuff for a pretty good while. I like the economy of their shows – not a lot of solos or extended jams – they just get up there and play a good song, finish it, and go on to the next song. Jamming’s great, but this ain’t bad, either. We were hoping our friends would like OCMS, too, and were very happy to see them on their feet, smiling and clapping at the end of OCMS’s show.
OCMS played several new songs. One was an old style song about a new and timeless tragedy – the death of American soldier from Virginia named Levi. Of the new stuff, Ketch Secor said, “if it won’t play in Georgia, it won’t play.” It played. Of the older tunes, my favorite of the night was CC Rider. Slow and methodical, it sounded great. (Here’s a video of the song from another concert a couple years ago.) The way they do that song always reminds me of Gillian Welch. And of course they ended the opening set with Wagon Wheel, a song you really never get tired of hearing. Ketch (Dale Murphy) added a nice touch by introducing the band as former Atlanta Braves stars.
[A note here: the audience seemed to be pretty balanced between old folks mainly coming to see Prine and younger folks mainly coming to see OCMS. But the line at the separate t-shirt stands was no contest. OCMS had a line all night, while Prine’s stand was pretty quiet. Cooler t-shirts at the OCMS stand, I suppose.]
John Prine plays with two top-notch sidemen, Jason Wilber on guitar and David Jacques on bass. They are a tight group in their suits and ties, playing the old songs with new energy. There’s no feeling of phoning anything in. To the contrary, I was surprised at how excited Prine seems to be, playing Fish and Whistle (“I wrote this song under pressure,” he said) and Donald and Lydia (after recounting his experiences at Fort Polk in Louisiana during the Vietnam era). My favorite of the evening was Lake Marie, a song and some stories (as opposed to a story song). This is a nice video Lake Marie that gives you some idea of what I’m talking about.
After Lake Marie, Prine leaves the stage then returns to finish up with two songs with the boys from OCMS. No pretend spontaneity here – the crew adds mikes quickly and out they come. The finishing song is Paradise. Listening to that, I think: this song is timeless, covered by just about everybody and I’m standing in the Fox Theatre with good friends singing along with the guy who wrote it. Paradise.
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