The American songwriting legend led a packed house through some fine country-folk on a star-filled night.---
Given the stormy day leading up to John Prine's show at Red Butte Garden, I expected another evening of dodging showers and bundling up against the canyon winds. Instead, by the time Prine and opener Carrie Rodriguez took the stage around 7:30 p.m., it had turned into one of those postcard-perfect nights at Utah's best summer concert venue. Cloudless, mellow and "comfy," as Prine put it.
The gruff-voiced troubador had a lot to do with the excellent vibes Thursday night. Not only is Prine one of the most affable frontmen you'll come across—cracking jokes and chatting up the crowd between songs with his easy Midwestern charm—he's also a stunningly crafty songwriter, with lyrics that hushed the audience into silence more than once in order to better hear his voice.
Prine's voice isn't what it once was, due to a successful battle with cancer in his neck a dozen years ago, but the gravelly quality the illness left him with seems perfectly suited to his story-songs, whether old nuggets from his vast back catalog or newer compositions.
Joined by standup bass player Dave Jacques and multi-instrumentalist Jason Wilber, Prine delivered a percussion-free set that did not lack in intensity or energy what it lacked in drums. From the opening "Spanish Pipedream," the crowd was increasingly into the show as Prine provided song after song of lyrical genius incredibly strong at evoking images of small-town America and the dreamers residing there.
"Picture Show" and "Souvenirs" were early highlights. "Christmas in Prison" was one of the best performances of the night, providing one of those hushed moments as the backing musicians quited their instruments and Prine whispered the chorus one final time: "Come to me/Run to me/Come to me, now/We're rolling/My sweetheart/We're flowing/By God!"
From there, Prine never let up, with solid and sometimes excellent takes on songs like "Fish and Whistle," "Grandpa Was a Carpenter," "The Glory of True Love," "Angel from Montgomery" and "That's The Way The World Goes." I particularly liked Thursday's versions of "Sam Stone," "Sins of Memphisto" and "Bear Creek," as well.
Prine turns 64 this fall, but there's no reason to think he can't go on performing for several more years. Thursday's show was every bit the equal of Salt Lake City performances of the recent past at Abravanel Hall and Kingsbury Hall. Here's hoping he finds the time to hit Red Butte Garden again before he exits the stage for the last time.