Paul Thorn/The Rowdy Prairie Dogs; October 13, 2010; High Noon Saloon
When people ask me what Paul Thorn is like, the best description I can give them is that the first time I saw him he was opening for John Prine. While it doesn’t seem like much of a description, most people nod their heads like that makes perfect sense to them. The iconic folk singer with the down-home sense of humor and stinging honesty tends to bring similar younger artists on the road with him. While last month’s opener Pieta Brown may not have the same edge, Todd Snider- who opened more than one tour- is a perfect example. I’ve seen Thorn several times since then, Beale Street Festival in Memphis, Fitzgerald’s in Berwyn and at Summerfest, but this is the first time I remember him coming to Madison.
It was one of those different shows at the High Noon, where it’s crowded, but I don’t know anyone. Instead of the backward hat wearing frat boys that packed the place for Lucero, this was definitely a more senior crowd even though Thorn can’t be any older than me. It was also a mostly seated crowd and I felt a little odd standing up front for his set until I was joined by another enthusiastic fan. It was also comforting to get reassuring smiles from his amazing band (notably the guitar player who had two pedal boards taller than me) and Thorn himself who seemed grateful to have someone to focus his energies on. Even though it had been a decade or more since the first time I saw him, he still does many of the same songs, including the charmingly naïve “Mood Ring.” Thinking it would be the key to figuring out women he summarizes the mood rings indicators, “If it turns red, she liked what I said. If it turns black I should turn back.” Of course, he eventually realizes it doesn’t work at all.
Thorn was born in Wisconsin, but raised in Tupelo, Mississippi, which explains his southern charm, as well as his delightful drawl and somewhat amusingly red-neck point of view. “Burn Down the Trailer Park” is his unique tale of revenge on a cheating lover. Problem is, he doesn’t know which trailer his betrayer is in, so he has to burn down the whole park. Another familiar tune was “Mission Temple Fireworks Stand” which tells the interesting story of an enterprising minister whose tent does double duty. Before he was a musician Thorn had an unlikely previous occupation as a boxer, which should be obvious from looking at his arms. His most memorable story from previous shows which I missed this time was about the time he fought Roberto Duran, and “like most people who fought Roberto Duran… I lost.” His set also included a number of selections from his new CD Pimps and Preachers. He informed us that he had spoken to his father, a Pentecostal preacher, before the show, and he told him that God had spoken to him and told him that unless we bought a copy of the new CD we were all damned. I felt a little guilty not buying the CD, especially when after the show he went around to the few people standing up front and thanked them, giving me a big hug (oh yeah, I swooned a little), but with the crowd around the table after the show it would have taken forever. I promise to pick it up soon.
Robert J of opening band The Rowdy Prairie Dogs was certainly enamored and he enthusiastically, and maybe a little drunkenly, took the stage to rally the crowd for an encore, even as Thorn was already returning. Hopefully the enthusiasm and size of the crowd will convince Thorn to play Madison a little more often. And if he’s looking for a more intimate venue, I have the perfect place for him.
Rowdy Prairie Dogs