This concert review of John Prine at Merrill Auditorium was originally published on April 24, 2005.

John Prine bounded on stage acting like he owned the place.

With 1,800 diehards welcoming him with a standing ovation, Prine basked briefly in the warmth of the moment and then quickly settled in for a two-hour tour of his musical catalog old and new.

By the time the proceedings concluded 25 songs later, Prine and his two backing musicians delivered a resoundingly solid concert that served as both a reminder of Prine’s status as one of America’s most important songwriters and also as notice that he’s nowhere near ready to give it up.

Prine, who will turn 59 later this year and last played in Portland almost exactly two years ago, dedicated a considerable portion of his concert to songs that made him an icon – “Souvenirs,” “Sam Stone,” “Illegal Smile” “Paradise” – but also made room for several newer tunes, including many from his upcoming CD, “Fair & Square,” which will be in stores Tuesday.

Prine fought a nasty head cold that rendered his normally throaty voice a near rasp, but he didn’t allow his condition to drag his performance. If anything, Prine’s cold enhanced his performance because it forced him to work harder to get his words out and also forced the audience to listen closely.

That paid off, especially with some of the older tunes that we might otherwise take for granted. We’ve all heard “Hello in There” or “Angel from Montgomery” countless times, but on Friday those songs packed a wellspring of emotion.

Most surprising was the satisfaction of Prine’s new and recent songs. “Lake Marie,” from his 1995 CD “Lost Dogs and Mixed Blessings,” was deliriously fun and heady, an out-and-out barn-burner. “She is My Everything” was a sweet love song to his wife, and “Crazy As a Loon” was funny ode to a whimsical life.

Prine has not lost his political knife, either. Twice, he skewered President Bush.

Once came on a new song, “Some Humans Ain’t Human,” in which he lamented society’s lack of compassion symbolized by Bush’s policies and wars. He also reached way back for “Your Flag Decal Won’t Get You Into Heaven Anymore,” a song about blind patriotism that he wrote during the Vietnam War years.

He stopped playing the song in 1977, but decided to air it out again at the request of the president, he said. “It wasn’t a formal request,” Prine quipped, “but believe me, he’s asking for it.”

The crowd loved the slam, and the song.

Leon Redbone – ever lovable, always funny – opened the show with a nice set of tunes that felt like they were hundreds of years old. His mellow demeanor was a perfect foil for Prine’s energy and timeless enthusiasm.

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