Tuesday, November 15, 2016

John Prine in America

I was going down into Iowa with my wife to see John Prine in concert, and since, obviously, he was on tour, I thought it would be nice to see what people were saying in reviews of his concerts on the Internet. So I looked up "John Prine review" or suchlike and found not a thing to read. I won't rail on against the Internet once again. You already know deep down in your heart the Internet has let us all down and I can't tell you anything more about that without getting fancy. You don't want me to get fancy in a blog post called "John Prine in America". So I went like an innocent to see John Prine, in Davenport, Iowa, with no preparation. And I thought I'd write a little review of it in case someone else down the line wanted to see a recent review of John Prine in concert. This will be the review they cannot find.

A couple nights ago John Prine played a concert in the puny, shambling, not without its small charms city of Davenport, Iowa. Thousands of people came enthusiastically to see him. The extremely talented Patty Griffin opened for him. She seems a little too good to be opening for anyone, but it's tough out there for a pretty successful entertainer who topped the metacritic charts nine years ago and is just trying to make a nice living. 

Donald Trump had just been elected President and Leonard Cohen had very recently died, but not a single topical sentence was uttered in the whole of the concert by any performer, and the whole thing could easily have taken place anytime in the past 20 years just as it was. Patty Griffin sang some lovely songs and called John Prine an "Institution" (he is), and said she loved him in a way that made me wonder if he hadn't driven her crazy or alienated her somehow on this tour. I think this was reinforced by the way they never sang together or appeared together in any way, even while Mr. Prine seems to be making a recent specialty of duets with formidable women singers over these past few years.

John Prine came out with a diversely aged four piece band of no insignificant talent. From the balcony where we were watching he was round, polite, reservedly friendly and seventy. He looked like he might be the mayor of Davenport. His voice was gravelly from some past cancer surgery, but still distinctly his own voice and good. His songs are of course funny and heartbreaking and all of that miraculous part of art where they seem like they're hardly doing anything at all, but they're doing so much you can hardly stand it in your heart.

It was a good show. He had a lead guitarist playing with him who was so fine I kept thinking he should go out on his own and form Led Zeppelin or something. Everyone else was merely top notch. Mr. Prine covered most of his hits although his hits are all about the same size and a few too many to cover. I am sure the majority of the crowd walked out happy and yet with a list of about three songs they really would have liked to have heard him play.

Somewhere early in the concert, in Republican Iowa, in a room full of what I took to be, for fun, old farmers, no flags, no products, no suburbs, no corporate sponsorship, with John Prine singing something clever and wise, I thought, unbidden, in a moment of completely unheralded patriotism "This is America."

I will never, ever, ever, believe in the fake one.

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