John Prine at the Minnesota Zoo, 6/29/12

John Prine.jpg

John Prine
With Willie Watson
Minnesota Zoo, Apple Valley
Friday, June 29, 2012

With fans as passionate (read: intoxicated, borderline rabid) as his, it was perhaps a sin for John Prine to show up 40 minutes late to his own party as he did for his Minnesota Zoo appearance Friday night. Any regular to the venue knows that Zoo shoes are regimented, run like clockwork rain or shine, and have a strict curfew, so when the announcement was made at 8:30 that John Prine was on his way... to the venue... the crowd was not happy. As enjoyable a performer as he is, it took a lot of balls for opener Willie Watson (ex-Old Crow Medicine Show) to come back out on stage to stall for Prine in front of this impatient audience.

"Probably out fishin'," quipped one more generous fan while the rest grumbled their way to beer tent and bathroom. But Watson's impromptu second set was handled with grace and confidence, and all was completely forgiven mere notes into "Spanish Pipedream," when Prine appeared suddenly, Watson was ushered off the stage with applause, and the headliners took the stage for an over 90-minute performance that packed in nineteen songs, while only cheating curfew by a few minutes.

The crowd's enthusiasm didn't wane as Prine was all smiles, and stepped off the stage and toward the front row to play the last licks of the opening song. "The longer I try to explain to my wife why I'm late, the deeper the hole I dig," he later joked, his voice now uniquely raspy after a 1998 surgery to treat cancer. "If I was to tell you the truth, you wouldn't believe me anyway."

If it wasn't his good-natured demeanor that smoothed over the delay, it was likely that the audience was by no means comprised of mere Prine dilettantes. These were superfans. There was ample hollering in recognition of each and every song by just a few notes in -- don't challenge any of these folks to a game of "Name That Tune" 'cause they can name that tune in three notes -- and several were sporting Prine t-shirts dating back to God knows how many tours ago.

Backed by a skillful two-piece band comprised of lead guitarist Jason Wilber and bassist Dave Jacques, Prine's voice is as soulful and unique as ever -- perhaps even more so -- and has maintained the boyish, uncultivated, introspectively reticent quality it's had since he began performing over four decades ago, attributes he shares with his friend and Thursday night Zoo performer Emmylou Harris.

Prine and band moved quickly through a good number of his most beloved songs, audience appreciation seeming to peak during the somber tune "Angel from Montgomery," the sing-along-able "Dear Abby," and the upbeat "Glory of True Love," with Prine and Wilber channeling the Bakersfield twang of Buck Owens and Don Rich. From songs one ("Spanish Pipedream") through nineteen ("Paradise"), the threesome held its audience's rapt attention. Prine does what he does -- storytelling -- very well. In fact, it's not much of a stretch to claim he's perhaps the best; his skills as a quietly compelling lyricist go unmatched even after all these years. Not a word is wasting space, and each earns its spot as readily as the one before it.

Critic's Bias: Wasn't super excited to be sitting on those hard amphitheater benches for the second night in a row. Super, super glad I did.

The Crowd: Surprisingly suburban.

Overheard In The Crowd: "Dear Abby, Dear Abby..." - Drunk lady singing from bathroom stall.

Random Observation: I hoped the Zoo had updated the rabies vaccines on the bats divebombing mosquitoes just above Prine's head. Silver lining? The bugs weren't bad up in the seats.

Setlist:
Spanish Pipedream
Picture Show
Six O'Clock News
Souvenirs
Grandpa Was a Carpenter
Far From Me
Fish and Whistle
Late John Garfield Blues
Glory of True Love
Angel from Montgomery
Dear Abby
Sabu Visits The Twin Cities Alone
Please Don't Bury Me
Sam Stone
Sweet Revenge
Saddle in the Rain
Hello In There
Lake Marie (with Willie Watson)
Paradise (with Willie Watson)



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