While New Orleans was under a flash food watch, John Prine, a living legend among country-folk singer-songwriters, performed the first of two nights headlining the Civic Theatre (510 O'Keefe St.) Friday, May 9. He performs a second show at 8 p.m. tonight, Saturday, May 10.
"Glad everyone made it over here and didn't float away," he said.
Prine opened with "Spanish Pipedream" from his 1971 landmark self-titled debut, from which he performed several songs throughout his nearly two-hour set — including "Donald and Lydia," a still-relevant "Sam Stone," about veterans returning home from war, and closers "Hello in There" and "Paradise." His low-key storytelling paired well with his now-raspy growl, equally fit for melancholic and love-lorn story-songs and his quick-witted gallows humor. "I always thought that when I was growing up that's what I wanna be, an old person," the 67-year-old Prine said before "Hello in There," an ode to the older, influential people in his life as a young man. "Well, voila."
Next to Prine were versatile guitarist Jason Wilbur and bassist David Jakes. With no percussive accompaniment other than the freight-train rattle of uptempo tracks, the bumpy rhythms were smoothed out, and Prine's lyrics took center stage. Jakes and Wilbur also injected some impressive harmonies into Prine's "Taking a Walk" from his 2005 album Fair & Square and "Lake Marie." During a mid-set solo break, he brought the theater to near-tears with "Let's Talk Dirty In Hawaiian," his admittedly difficult nonsense song.
But it mostly was a night of classics, including 1978's "Steady with Betty" and "Whistle and Fish," with a standout, 1971's "Angel from Montgomery," bringing the balcony crowd to a standing ovation. Prine, who battled squamous cell cancer in the late '90s and underwent surgery for lung cancer late last year, enjoyed himself — posing in front of the stage during guitar solos and keeping a wide smile throughout, and wishing his wife Fiona and the mothers in the audience a "Happy Mother's Day."
Tickets are $65-$85. New Nashville singer-songwriter Brandy Clark — who performed a tight, killer solo set — opens.