In these days of galloping commercialism, music has become as much a business as a pleasure. Some musicians still exist simply for the joy of playing while others play for the joy of profits. The differences between the real thing and a prepackaged product were demonstrated Saturday night at the Merriweather Post Pavilion.
Singer John Prine is a modern Guthrie by way of Dylan. His craggy voice and even craggier lyrics speak of the bittersweetness of life and love. More importantly, Prine is alive -- he bristles with a kind of raucous excitement. He is real .
Prine strode on stage, draped his droopy mustache over the microphone and made music until the crowd was screaming for more. He mixed moving, acoustic ballads (ably accompanied by Steve Goodman), country-flavored numbers and several flat-out rock numbers.The slow sweetness of "Cold War" was contrasted with the rapid-fire outbursts of "Saigon," and the Bo Diddley beats of "No Name Girl" were a special treat. Throughout, Prine and his excellent backup group encouraged each other and seemed completely caught up in the rapturous musical proceedings.
Juice Newton, the latest addition to what appears to be an endless line of female country singers, opened the show with a predictable and depressing display of music-biz formulas. Her high nasal twang (practiced, no doubt, to perfection) was backed by clinched guitar solos and ultrasmooth country-rock arrangements, all presented in a humorless, eminently efficient manner. Newton's performance was palatable, to be sure, but never particularly juicy.