I can't remember the first time I saw John Prine performing live except it was sometime in the 1970s. It was either at the Mariposa Folk Festival on the Toronto Islands or at Convocation Hall on the University of Toronto campus. Like all folk singers, only part of the attraction of seeing him perform in person was the chance to hear favourite tunes being sung live as half the fun are the stories they have to tell between songs and their personalities. Let's face it, you're not going to see a folk musician for the fancy, high tech show they're going to put on. You want to share in an experience that only the combination of them and their music can create that never seems to be captured on a studio recording.
So I've always considered the idea of a live recording something of an oxymoron as far too few of them manage to recreate the feeling of being part of a community of people taking part in something special. No matter how much of the in-between song chat or crowd noise that might be included, you still feel like you're on the outside looking in cut off by a pane of glass or something similar. Now it's been a long time since I've listened to a live John Prine recording, mainly because the ones that I've heard before were disappointments for the reason described above, yet I decided to give it another try with the release of John Prine: In Person & On Stage on Prine's own Oh Boy Records label. Aside from the chance that this disc might bring him to life like previous ones hadn't, there was also the attraction that special guests were spotted throughout the disc helping out on old favourites.
Maybe it's because recording technology has improved (or those involved paid attention to how Arlo Guthrie records his live albums) but from the opening track, "Spanish Pipedream," to the final cut, "Paradise," it's like having Prine and his various accompanists being invisible presences in your living room. I'm not sure how to describe it, but there's the rawness and immediacy that you'd expect from a live performance. Each of the instruments stand out in the mix in about the same way you'd expect them to if you were hearing them on stage instead of being artfully blended together as they are in a studio.