John Prine telling stories at the Marcus
I value the stories sung on each John Prine record I’ve ever spun, but to hear the man sound off a true tale of finding two teenage girls trapped inside a giant orange was pleasantly indescribable.
The Chicago native walked out to a warm standing ovation, with accompanists Dave Jacques (bassist) and Jason Wilber (lead guitar). They went right into “Spanish Pipedream,” from Prine’s 1971 self-titled album. At 67, his voice is a little more broken than it was in ’71, but the sound was still very much John Prine. And that voice still speaks the truth.
The banter started slow with a Summerfest reference about the times he used to play the Miller stage a little too close to all the dangling feet from above. He jested that he’d sing as many songs that mention Milwaukee as he could.
The stage setup was classic: Three musicians in the spotlight and their stock of instruments behind. Prine switched between two acoustic guitars, Jacques featured his gorgeous upright bass. Wilber rotated through several instruments.
The crowd gave Wilber plenty of love, notably for his slide solo in “Storm Windows” and for his gentle mandolin accompaniment in “Angel from Montgomery,” my favorite tune of the night. Prine sang the number slowly and carefully and by the time he started the third verse, “There’s flies in the kitchen/I hear ’em all buzzin,'” I was smitten. “Christmas in Prison” and “Lake Marie” were also favorites. When they started the latter, I felt as if we were listening to a full rock ‘n roll band. The chorus was strong and loud as they picked up the energy for the second half of the show.
The evening had a pleasant balance, from the sentimentality of a Steve Goodman dedication to “Souveniers” to “Fish and Whistle.” It seems Prine once scraped ice cream from a parking lot and got chased by a swarm of bees, all to make his pocket jingle. There were tears and there was laughter as the crowd hung on every word.
Prine played a short solo set including “Donald and Lydia” and “Let’s Talk Dirty in Hawaiian.” His mates rejoined him during the final minutes of “Sam Stone.” Canadian opener Kendel Carson jumped on the wagon for a couple duets “In Spite of Ourselves” and “Speed of the Sound of Loneliness.” I think last night’s crowd would agree that this fiddle-toting, cowboy boot stomping woman made a good showing.
All hands were on deck for the closing number, “Paradise.” Prine encouraged each musician to take a solo to close the show, then he bid his Midwestern fellows adieu.