John Prine, Bruce Mason Centre, February 27th
There was a strong air of expectation in the audience ahead of John Prine’s performance. How would it be seeing a songwriter whose debut release was nearly fifty years ago? How would he sound on the far side of two major cancer episodes? The answer was expressed in repeat standing ovations.
Prine’s lengthy set focused on his recent Tree of Forgiveness, a collection that moves between whimsical stories and poignant reflections on love and loyalty. He seemed to walk awkwardly on stage, so his exit at the end of the main set with nimble dance steps added both whimsy and surprise. The backdrop depicting an ancient oak tree with sun bursting through the branches seemed a metaphor for the night. A deep-reach into the tree-rings of his back catalogue was accompanied by fine musicians.
A personal highlight? I found it deeply moving to hear Hello in There, a delicate anthem urging us to reach out to older people (written when only 26). More recent songs seemed to speak of impending mortality. Yet, the simple lyric “Summer’s end’s around the bend, just flying / The swimming suits are on the line, just drying” was also a perfect take-away on a Takapuna evening. And that is, perhaps, the genius of Prine: songs of simultaneous simplicity and depth. I left knowing this was a show I would savour for a very long time offered by a man who’s beauty and depth were on full display.