The accolade ‘living legend’ is all too often bandied about carelessly when describing some of our surviving roots / country singer songwriters. Recent years has seen the passing of Merle Haggard, Leonard Cohen and George Jones, all who unquestionably fall in to this category, leaving a handful of artists including a very ill Glen Campbell, Willie Nelson, Kris Kristofferson, Loretta Lynn and John Prine carrying the torch.
Prine’s inspiration to so many of this generations burning lights (Jason Isbell, Sturgill Simpson, Ryan Adams to name but a few) is beyond doubt and the chance to still witness him in full flight is an opportunity not to be missed. Like Cohen in his latter years and as a result of recovery from throat cancer, Prine’s vocals have dropped a few octaves from his younger days, but in many ways his new found gravely vocal perfectly suits his more recent recordings and still manages to do his vast back catalogue justice indeed.
Prine’s wife Fiona, being Irish, practically guarantees us an annual if not bi-annual show in Dublin and some eighteen months after his last appearance in Vicar Street its business as normal for the enthusiastic audience this evening.
The added bonus this evening is the support slot by Amanda Shires. A regular visitor to Ireland in recent years the selection of Shires as support act also gives Prine the option of including a number of his well-loved duets in his set. The presence of Jason Isbell (Shires' husband) on stage gives the evening another dimension.
"Six shows in seven days, they shouldn’t do that to an old man" announces Prine three songs into his sold out show this evening. Having kicked off proceedings with Love Love Love, Glory of True Love and Long Monday it’s evident even at this stage that the full house at Bord Gais Theatre are in for a treat. Opening act Amanda Shires who showed a sense of humour with the remark that "you guys seem to have named your toilet bowls after me!" had already wooed the crowd with a thirty minute opening set, playing in a duo with her husband Jason Isbell and performing Devastate, Pale Fire, Swimmer, Wasted and Rolling before closing by sharing vocals with Isbell on a cover of Warren Zevon’s Mutineer.
Prines’s regular band this evening, Jason Wilber on guitar, Pat McLaughlin on mandolin, acoustic and electric guitar and Dave Jacques ("the best bass player in the world") on upright and electric bass are also accompanied, welcomed but somewhat surprisingly, by Kenneth Blevins on drums. An unusual departure for Prine to feature a drummer on stage but he explains, "never had a drummer, but heard this guy play my stuff recently and changed my mind". As can be expected the playing is sublime to the extent that it is impossible to highlight any one of the players above the others. The three and sometimes four part harmonies accompanying Prine’s low down vocals aren’t half bad either.
All the crowd pleasers are delivered, Your Flag Decal Won’t Get You Into Heaven Any More ("an old song that I dust down and bring out at every presidential election, think I’m gonna leave it out for a while this time!"), Hello In There which he dedicated to his mother in law, Angel From Montgomery this time dedicated to Bonnie Raitt. What follows is a solo slot by Prine and his trusty acoustic guitar - one he bought it in 1968, and played on every song hes written,also quipping thatit "could play the show all on its own." He delivered side splitting versions of Jesus The Missing Years and That’s The Way The World Goes ‘Round.
At this stage we are over an hour into a typical Prine show but what follows for the next sixty minutes is magical. Firstly joined by Shires on stage, Prine delivers a saucy duet of In Spite Of Ourselves with Shires adopting Iris De Ment lyrical role to perfection. The duo continue with Unwed Fathers before Prine invites Isbell back on stage and asks him to select one of his own songs. Prine tell us that "I love singer songwriters and this man is the best I’ve heard in the past twenty five years." Isbell obliges playing Travelling Alone noting that it was Mrs. Prine’s favourite song of his which he freely admits having ripped off from John Prine.
Prine returns on stage and tells the tale of how he came to meet Galway born Fiona, his current wife ("she’s given me three wonderful sons, two grandchildren and the happiest twenty five years of my life") in 1988 in Blooms Hotel after he had performed at the Point as part of The Sessions. She then joins him on stage for My Happiness, the duet included with her on his latest album For Better, Or Worse. A solo Sam Stone ("for all the veterans in the world") follows before his band, Shires and Isbell come back on stage for a grand finale that includes Speed Of The Sound Of Loneliness (dedicated to Nanci Griffith) and a rousing Dim Lights, Thick Smoke and show closer Lake Marie.
In response to the deafening applause and cheering from the audience the whole entourage return to stage for an encore of Paradise to conclude the show. From a personal viewpoint I have had the pleasure of attending many wonderful John Prine shows over the years. This evening’s performance, for me, surpasses in many ways any of those experiences and judging by the reception John Prine and all his accomplices received at the end of the show, I’ve no doubt many other would concur.
Review and photograph by Declan Culliton