This review of the John Prine concert at Merrill Auditorium was originally published on Sept. 14, 2008.

John Prine’s high energy and easy banter thrilled a packed crowd Friday night at the Merrill Auditorium.

From the opening ”Spanish Pipedream,” remembered for the line ”Throw out the TV,” to the closing encore song, ”Paradise,” about the desecration of coal-mining country in Muhlenberg County, he sang most of the highlights of his nearly 40-year career.

”I don’t know if it is the weather or what,” he said early in the show, ”but we’re feeling really good tonight.”

The show drew heavily from the bookends of Prine’s career, with six songs from his most recent solo album, 2005’s ”Fair & Square,” and five from his first album, 1971’s ”John Prine.”

Prine flows easily from the thoughtful and quiet songs such as ”Hello in There” and ”Donald and Lydia” to the funny such as ”Crazy as a Loon” and ”Whistle and Fish,” and rocking, as in the Carter Family’s ”Bear Creek Blues.”

The show’s smoothness was due in part to the work of Prine’s excellent backup musicians, Jason Wilbur on lead guitar and David Jacques on bass. The two have worked with Prine, both live and in studio, for years.

The three did a dozen songs together, before Wilbur and Jacques left to let Prine do a half-dozen on his own.

The audience listened in church-like reverence as Prine began ”Sam Stone” solo, was joined mid-song first by Jacques, mournfully bowing his bass, and then Wilbur, quietly steel-fretting his electric guitar.

For me, at least, that song was the highlight of the show.

Prine did a few songs that if not new were so deep in the back tracks of his career that I had not heard them before. One of the funniest was a story song about a driving trip that ends up in the bottom of the bottomless lake, a nice look at family life and interplay.

His banter and asides added to the show. Early on, he had put a capo on his guitar incorrectly and he stopped the song. ”I’m only getting five strings here, and you are paying for six.” When he lost his pick on ”Bear Creek Blues,” he just laughed, shrugged and got another one.

Prine was on stage for 2 hours and 10 minutes, full energy and high quality all the time.

Sarah Lee Guthrie and Johnny Irion opened the concert with a set of original compositions featuring smooth harmony and fine guitar playing, especially by Irion. ”Folk Song” was a funny ditty of lyrics by Woody Guthrie, Sarah Lee’s grandfather, for which the couple created music.

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