Concert Review: John Prine (Troy, New York, September 22, 1995)

John Prine, The Delevantes
Troy Savings Bank Music Hall (Troy, New York), September 22, 1995

John Prine released his debut album in 1971 and took his whirl in the “new Dylan” media meat grinder of the day. The folks who thought we really needed a new Dylan (most of them music critics) tended to unjustly file Prine’s ensuing twenty years worth of work in the “potential, unfulfilled” rack. Prine didn’t seem to notice. He founded his own record company (Oh Boy Records) and kept tossing off nuggets for his fan base, who treasured them the way nine-year old rock collectors treasure their stones — by getting together to squat in the dust out by the woods, comparing and enthusiastically discussing their flints and quartzes and mudstones and slates.

Enter the nineties: country has been de-closeted, roots are reviving, and it has become inherently clear to the most casual observers that Prine wasn’t the next anyone — he was the first Prine, fusing folk, rock, and country forms into a fabulously rich new American idiom. So vindicated, Prine reached beyond his cult of rock hounds with his 1991 album, The Missing Years, and has expanded his horizons further with the new Lost Dogs and Mixed Blessings. Last Friday, Prine brought his Lost Dogs Band to the Troy Savings Bank Music Hall for a rousing rip through these shiny new nineties gems and some well-worn old nuggets. It was a tenacious rock hound’s dream show, and a fine testament to Prine’s persistence of vision.

On stage, Prine oozed charisma the way most of us oozed sweat last July — he grinned for two hours like the cat that ate not only the canary, but most of the fish tank and a few choice lawn bugs to boot. Prine ran the Lost Dogs through their paces in a muscular opening session highlighted by the Key Westy “New Train” and the motto-in-waiting “Ain’t Hurtin’ Nobody.” Utility swing-musician Phil Parlapiano was a multi-instrumental (organ, accordion, mandolin) wonder through this first set. Heck, he even sang Marianne Faithfull’s part in “This Love is Real” and sounded like her. Put that guy in the Sideman Hall of Fame now! The Dogs then disappeared while Prine delivered a solo set that ran from the gut-wrenching empathies of “Souvenirs” and “Donald and Lydia” to the bust-a-gut hilarity of the Peter Case co-penned “Space Monkey” and the good-timey “Big Ol’ Goofy World.” He closed this intimate interlude by bringing the band back one instrument at a time to create a hauntingly evocative arrangement of his debut album classic, “Sam Stone.”

Before we could catch our breaths, and perhaps fueled by Demon Nicotine (the strict no smoking policy in the Music Hall clearly had him jonesing, and he let us know it), Prine rubbed the Dogs into a lather again with some punchy numbers from the new album. Impossibly young looking lead/slide guitarist Dave Steele delivered nearly paroxysmic solos to electrify “Quit Hollerin’ at Me” and “Keep the Lights On,” and the entire band made the fine “Lake Marie” a rock and roll epiphany piece. Prine closed the regular set with his signature number, “Hello in There,” which sounded fresh and vibrant and was timelessly topical, like all great art. After the obligatory walk off/standing ovation/walk back routine, Prine and company chuffed through four more gems including crowd-pleaser “Illegal Smile” and the deliciously nasty “We Are the Lonely.” Then, as they sang earlier in “Lake Marie,” Whoa wah oh wah oh . . . aww baby, we gotta go. Dang.

The Delevantes opened with the best collection of songs about Hoboken I’ve ever heard. (Really! I mean it!) Their neo-Everly harmonies were delightful, and Mike Delevante’s surf-cum-psychedelic-cum-rockabilly lead guitar work was exemplary. Get these guys a rhythm section and they could be dangerous. Impress your roots rock friends by being the first on your block to score their Rounder Records distributed debut disk.

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