As the years go by my sense of anticipation ahead of seeing one of the giants among our genre only intensifies. After such loss last year, a feeling of mortality has seeped in to an alarming extent. Having had his own brush with serious illness I felt these mixed emotions even more keenly in the days before John Prine’s appearance at the London Palladium. Sitting in the afterglow that follows a particularly memorable show, I am wondering what all the fuss was about. Here was an artist who performed some of the finest examples of his long and distinguished repertoire with his band, on his own and with, one of the stars from this generation’s artists Amanda Shires, as well as he could have done anytime. This was a show of Prine’s deep love of the music, his band and his audience. Speaking on behalf of the latter it was reciprocated unequivocally.
Amanda Shires opened with a set characterised by her pure voice with minimal musical accompaniment. Her relatively short solo appearance left nobody in any doubt as to her reverence for those who define the music, such as John Prine, and she also made clear her own growing contribution. Amanda Shires is definitely worth seeking out for a headline show.
The presence of a modest drumkit, double and electric bass plus a few more guitars posed an intriguing question before the main act; how much would Prine do solo and how much with his band? The show split into three; Prine and band, Prine solo then Prine and Shires.
All dressed in grey suits, white shirts and ties (Prine’s being the obligatory bootlace), the band took the stage with ‘Love, Love,Love’ then ‘Glory of True Love’, both at an energetic tempo. Still with the band ‘Long Monday’ brought the pace down as Prine took us through some classics from the back catalogue; ‘Taking a Walk’, ‘Your Flag Decal Won’t Get You Into Heaven Anymore’ and a sublime, ‘Souvenirs’. Applause greeted the opening bars of many particular favourites such as ‘Grandpa Was a Carpenter’.
Throughout Prine moved around the stage from one band member to another just checking up on each, not it appeared in any bossy way but just to show the deep bond that exists between all. And what a band, all of whom deserve individual mention; bassist Dave Jaques, Pat McLaughlin (mandolin, guitars), Jason Wilber (guitars, some exquisite slide) and on drums, Kenneth Blevins. The chat in between songs wasn’t extensive, but enough to include an opinion on the POTUS, some highly amusing one-liners and an entertaining anecdote or two.
Moving to the solo slot it will come as little surprise that, in my opinion, ‘Angel From Montgomery’ was the highlight. Here was Prine plus guitar playing to his audience. The years slipped by. Clearly his voice is deeper since the very early days, at times sounding almost like a growl but there’s no change to the fluidity of his distinct finger-picking. ‘That’s The Way the World Goes Round’ ran ‘Angel’ a close second but really, such classification is pointless, they were all wonderful.
Part three saw Prine joined by Amanda Shires for ‘In Spite of Ourselves’ and ‘Dim Lights, Big Smoke’, from last year’s release showing there is more to come from Prine. These were interspersed with ‘Sam Stone’ dedicated to all war veterans, every bit as relevant now as when Prine first sang it way back in 1971. ‘Lake Marie’ finished the set before all returned for a rousing encore and finish with ‘Paradise’ with band, Shires and wife, Fiona, at the end of which Prine laid down his guitar and took his leave.
If all this sounds a bit gushing then I make no apology; I’ve been a fan of John Prine for a long time, and this was a great show.