John Prine / Todd Snider – Victory Theatre (Evansville, IN)
After three marriages, a bout with cancer, and a hip replacement, John Prine’s body is starting to look as weathered as his voice. But looks can be deceiving. He acted anything but old as he plowed through a high-energy, 30-song set at Evansville’s sold-out Victory Theatre.
Prine stood center stage, dressed head-to-toe in black, and fingerpicked classics (“Hello In There”, “Souvenirs”, “Six O’Clock News”) on a battered Martin. For more up-tempo songs such as “Grandpa Was A Carpenter” and “Picture Show”, he banged out his trademark rhythm on a big Gibson acoustic. He even strapped on an electric guitar and treated us to a round of unadulterated rock ‘n’ roll. (It looked as if he might break that artificial hip stomping his way through “Lake Marie”.)
Except for a mid-show solo set, Prine was flanked throughout the evening by bassist Dave Jacques and multi-instrumentalist Jason Wilber on guitar, harmonica and mandolin. Jacques proved equally proficient on an upright acoustic and a Danelectro Longhorn. Wilber played exquisitely tasteful electric guitar, stealing licks from Don Rich and using a pill-bottle slide to mimic the swirling sounds of a pedal steel.
Prine’s wit was wry as ever. Introducing Jacques, he said, “When I met him he worked in a shirt factory. Now he’s wearing a shirt.” After singing “Your Flag Decal Won’t Get You Into Heaven Anymore” — which he wrote in 1968 — Prine said, “I thought all this paranoid patriotism would go out of style.” Then, grinning, he added, “I guess I was wrong.” Later, he slipped John Ashcroft’s name into “Dear Abby”.
Prine also played a few tunes from an upcoming album, affirming that he obviously hasn’t run out of words. He compares a long Monday to “the tick of a clock that’s come unwound.” On “Just Gettin’ By”, his deflated protagonist visits an old lover and sings that he “felt about as welcome as a Wal-Mart Superstore.” Other new tunes included “The Other Side Of Town” and “Crazy As A Loon”.
Family obviously plays an important role in Prine’s music. He spoke of his older brother Dave, who taught him three guitar chords and gave him a Carter Family album “so I’d know what a good song sounds like.” Then he tore into a blistering version of the Carter Family’s “Bear Creek Blues”, dedicating it to the memory of Johnny and June Carter Cash. His younger brother Billy joined him on guitar and vocals as they closed the show with “Paradise”, Prine’s ode to their childhood summers spent in Muhlenberg County, Kentucky.
Todd Snider, who opened the show, was well-received by the packed house. He trotted out barefoot and blue-jeaned — quite a contrast to the sport coats and neckties in Prine’s trio — and launched into “Can’t Complain”. His 45-minute set included a sampling of his recent work for Prine’s Oh Boy label, in addition to his earlier MCA material. By the time he encored with “Alright Guy”, Snider had sung (very well, actually) about everything from Marilyn Manson to child abuse to beer.