Watching John Prine perform live, the most obvious question that comes to mind is, "How is this guy not bigger?"
Of course, "bigger" is all relative. Prine's songs have been covered by the likes of Bob Dylan and Bonnie Raitt, among others, and he's enjoyed critical accolades and commercial success over his four-decades-plus career. Yet he isn't revered in the same way as those artists.
He should be, judging by his show at Red Butte Garden Tuesday night. With a bag full of excellent songs that showcase his insistent, unique voice and down-home perspective, Prine led his three-piece band into a stellar set illuminated by a blue moon and the glow of thousands of acolytes.
Prine's voice has been weathered by time and a bout with cancer in his neck, but it remains a powerful instrument, and the perfect one for delivering his lyrics that manage to be both poetic and easy to connect with at the same time. Starting with "Spanish Pipedream," Prine took center stage dressed in a black Western suit and abetted with only a guitarist and bass player--the sparse arrangements helping focus the attention on the man's lyrics to great effect.
A Prine concert serves as a run through some of the best songwriting of the past 40 years, and Tuesday's show was no exception. "Picture Show" and "Humidity Built the Snowman" came early on, as did "Your Flag Decal Won't Get You Into Heaven Anymore;" the follow-up lyric--"it's already overcrowded from your dirty little war"--as stirring in 2013 as it was when he released his debut in 1971.
Whether strumming a guitar, blowing a harmonica or simply unleashing that gravelly voice, Prine was in fine form throughout, and songs like "Souvenirs," "Grandpa was a Carpenter" and "Fish and Whistle" were all highlights of the middle of the show.
While the show was a savvy mix of uptempo tunes and ballads, it seemed to roll along at a quick pace. Part of that was due to Prine keeping his between-song banter to a minimum, and part of it was because it was so easy to get lost in a song's lyrics as he performed.
"It's a Big Old Goofy World," "Glory of True Love," "Hello in There" and "Lake Marie" all hit their marks, and "Bear Creek" and "Killing the Blues" were excellent as well.
That pretty much goes for the entire show, and that's noteworthy for a performer who will turn 67 this year. You'll probably have at least a few more opportunities to see Prine play in Salt Lake City. You should make a point of doing just that.