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John Prine at the Palace

What a wonderful artistic dilemma to have: How does an artist noted for his sly, dark honesty cope with a crowd who wildly adores him? In a word, ecstatically. From the opening "Spanish Pipedream" until Mr. Peabody's coal train hauled us away, John Prine could do no wrong at the Palace on June 4.

Accompanied by versatile musicians (including Larry Crane of Mellencamp fame) capable of sparse acoustic backing, as well as rocking out Buffett style, John seemed to have a blast romping through songs from his new Lost Dogs and Mixed Blessings release, in front of a Gary Lawsonesque backdrop and below suspended lost dogs with colored lights for eyes.

His pen is an inventive as ever, as evidenced by the unreleased "Space Monkey," written with Peter Case. This is the sad story of a primate sent into space as part of along-term Soviet mission, "where it's dark as a dungeon," only to return to no Soviet Union, no hero's welcome. He commiserates at a bar with space shuttle rats and other space veterans, where they party down on vodka imported from Paducah ... well, you get the idea.

As rollicking and versatile as the band was, the highlight of the show was in the middle when Prine rendered solo performances of his best known work, mostly from his 1971 debut album, notably "Sam Stone," and "Hello In There." Ironically punctuated by frequent applause, whoops and hollers from the audience, the simple, unadorned delivery remains the most effective vehicle for the elegance of simplicity that the best of Prine's lyrics offer. It would be a close call as to who had the better time — audience or artist —although Prine may have had the edge, surrounded by family and rabid fans and grinning — legally —— like a possum.

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