ILLINOIS PRINE CONCERT REVIEWS
Ravinia - Highland Park, IL
August 18 - Support: Leon Redbone
SPELLBINDING PRINE PROVIDES FOOD FOR THOUGHT
A soft purple spotlight washed over John Prine Wednesday night as he stood onstage at Ravinia. Dressed in his traditional all-black ensemble, the portly 57-year-old Maywood native looked like a Teddy Roosevelt Rough Rider in the
This guy is a survivor.
Prine has been through three marriages and several record labels, and he beat throat cancer. Would you expect anything else from the son of a tool and die maker who was president of the Maywood United Steelworkers Union
Prine has played Ravinia for more than 30 years. I know because in the early 1970s as a teenager I took the train from the western suburbs to see Ravinia's annual folk festival, which included Prine, Steve Goodman, Bonnie Koloc and Wilderness Road. The homecoming concert is a tender affair for Prine, which reflected the poignant tones of Wednesday's two-hour set. During an extended solo portion, Prine dedicated a tempered version of "Donald and Lydia" to the late Chicago folk singer Fred Holstein, whom Prine credited for single-handedly keeping the Chicago folk scene alive during the 1960s, and from there he went into "Souvenirs," a standard now reserved for the late
Prine opened with a feisty cover of "Spanish Pipedream" from his 1971 critically acclaimed self-titled debut album. He was backed by slap-bassist David Jacques and guitarist Jason Wilber. Prine then set the table for the evening's subtle political tones by resurrecting 1971's "Your Flag Decal Won't Get You Into Heaven Anymore," originally written about Vietnam, but now applicable to Iraq. Prine told the audience the song was "a special request by our president, left over from his draft-dodging days."
Earlier this month, Prine began working on his first album in seven years and he previewed material from that project. "Some Humans Ain't Human" made its public debut. The loping ballad begins about peering into a cold heart with "a few frozen pizzas/ice cubes with hair/a broken popsicle/you don't want to go there ..." before making its way to "some cowboy from Texas starts his own war in Iraq/some people lie through their teeth/with their heads up their behind." Other new songs included the Prine-Pat McLaughlin anthem "Just Gettin' By," which McLaughlin has been performing recently at FitzGerald's. Another new ballad, "Long Monday," shows that Prine still has his impeccable eye for detail with lyrics like: "stuck like the tick of a clock that's come unwound."
Prine, Jacques and Wilber plugged in for a roaring version of "Lake Marie" as well as a hard-driving cover of the Carter Family's "Bear Creek Blues." The Prine cover will be found on "The Unbroken Circle: The Musical Heritage of the Carter Family," due Tuesday from Dualtone
Prine remains the best onstage storyteller I have heard. He talks in the drawled-out tones of Kris Kristofferson (who appears at Ravinia with Trace Adkins on Sept. 11).
Prine stopped toward the end of "That's the Way the World Goes 'Round," after singing the refrain, "It's a half an inch of water and you think you're going to drown." He recalled that when he was 12, he listened to the diverse magic of Chicago radio on a blue transistor radio he kept under his bedroom pillow. Prine was captivated by lyrics and would buy Hit Parader magazine just to see what the lyrics were. Sometimes he was
In Fats Domino's 1959 hit "Margie," a young Prine thought the fat man was singing about "grumbly beans." Prine said, "Wow! Grumbly beans! That must be something you can only get in New Orleans." But when Prine read his magazines, he learned Domino was singing "don't forget your promise to me." A similar experience happened to Prine when a woman requested the song about "The Happy Enchilada" during a gig in San Francisco. "I have a file cabinet at home, one of the few things I've kept through three marriages," Prine said. "It is filled with words I would never use in a song. Enchilada is one of them. I said, "Maybe you mean Jimmy Buffett. He writes songs about food.' " The Ravinia crowd roared. The woman insisted it was a Prine song. Viola! Prine then realized it was "a happy enchilada and you think you're going to drown," which he sang in the final
This keen detail is what has made Prine one of America's great songwriters. Over the years his smoky voice has evolved into a conscience that has been around, and it's always a warm feeling when that conscience comes
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