When the 8:30 p.m. start time came and went at the Minnesota Zoo amphitheater on Friday night, nobody paid much attention. When zoo promoter Sue McLean came out and reported that John Prine was "on his way,” folks had a little chuckle. When opening act Willie Watson came out to sing a few more songs, though, then people started to get nervous.
The singing mailman finally delivered himself to the stage a little after 9 p.m. with a pained grin on his face. “If you’re gonna come out looking sheepish, it might as well be at the zoo,” he cracked, a sure sign that all was fine.
Turned out, the 65-year-old singer had driven himself from his hotel and gotten lost. Exactly where he got turned around became apparent later when he introduced his longstanding bandmates Jason Wilber and Dave Jacques, and then he introduced himself as “Johnny Cake Ridge Road” (a main thoroughfare east of the zoo now under construction; I’m thinking it’d be a good song title on Prine’s next album). Because of his tardiness, John admitted he had to “go light on the stories.” Which is actually quite a big loss in his case (I’m still trying to accurately retell the long one last summer at Big Top Chautauqua about rescuing some girls outside of LaCrosse trapped inside an orange sculpture).
On the upside, Prine’s singing voice actually sounded (relatively) better than at most of his other recent shows in the area, and he managed to tear through an average number of tunes – thanks in part a 15-minute hedging on the zoo’s 10:30 curfew. The set list itself was pretty average, too, although “Sabu Visits the Twin Cities Alone” is one he doesn’t do a whole lot outside of our local jungles, and “Sweet Revenge” and “Far From Me” also haven’t been regulars of late. Old Crow Medicine Show co-leader Watson added some nice harmonies to “Lake Marie” and “Paradise” at the end, and Jacques’ bass-bowing earlier in “Sam Stone” sent chills through the standing-room-only crowd. Here’s the full set list:
Spanish Pipedream / Picture Show / Six O'Clock News / Souvenirs / Grandpa Was a Carpenter / Far From Me / Fish and Whistle / The Late John Garfield Blues / Glory of True Love / Angel From Montgomery / Dear Abby / Sabu Visits the Twin Cities Alone / Please Don't Bury Me / Sam Stone / Sweet Revenge / Saddle in the Rain / Hello In There / Lake Marie / Paradise