Every time I stop in for a show at The Dakota, I like to take a minute to give readers some incentive to visit this local downtown Mpls gem. There are nights where it’s worth a little splurge to get up close to your favorite performers and couple it with a great dinner. What could be better than a summer night, crawfish gumbo and biscuits and a true son of the South in Paul Thorn?
I’ve heard it said William Faulkner is America’s greatest novelist because in his small southern towns, one could find every quality or vice known to man. If that’s true, why not get it done quick and direct by attending a Paul Thorn concert? The way I figure, you can find just about every quality and vice you’ll ever need in that one man. If he didn’t do it or think it, he knows somebody who did. And that’s about as fine a rolodex for song ideas as one could ever need.
Admittedly, I’m a long time Paul Thorn fan. He fits into that pocket of American sing/songwriters who see us as we really are. I’ve always found him to be birds of a feather with the likes James McMurtry, Alejandro Escovedo, Patterson Hood or Dave Alvin. The comparisons to John Prine are apt. Prine was a mentor. What sets Thorn apart is the humor. No matter how twisted the stories may be, he always seems to revel in the irony. So it’s really no surprise that songs like Joanie The Jehovah Witness Stripper get replaced in the setlist by rockers like Pimps and Preachers. That stuff happens when your daddy was the preacher and your babysitting uncle was the pimp. Like I said, it’s a good rolodex of ideas.
And it’s those songs about offbeat characters and sinners that make him to my mind, the best music thing to ever emerge from that sprawling metropolis of Tupelo, Mississippi. Now some folks will rightly pull for that Elvis Presley fellow. And rightly so. But both me an Mama Thorn are gonna go with the darkhorse.
I called it a Paul Thorn concert. It really isn’t. It’s always more than that. The man’s deadpan droll and the long winding stories he tells to set up the next song are an evening in themselves. The man has one of those brains that can go in a straight linear fashion lickety split. While the rest of us are couching our words in how they’ll be received or interpreted, Paul Thorn just tells the God’s honest truth. Forrest Gump whump. Right between the eyes like a straight right. But it doesn’t really sting because he’s quick to admit we’re all misfits and sinners.
So goes the story of Wilbur the baby skunk, he found one day riding his bike. It was so little that he took it home and his mama let him raise it up in the chicken coop because it was unoccupied. Wilbur and Paul became fast friends. Wrasslin’ and playing for hours on end. When Wilbur grew big and healthy, Paul picked him up to play one day and Wilbur became a full fledged skunk. And isn’t that just like people? Thorn reflected. Then seguing directly into I Don’t Like Half The Folks I Love.
A story, followed by a song, with a bit of open, honest testifyin’ sounds more like a Revival than a concert. And as many times as that cliche has been trotted out to try to describe one of his shows, it’s true. By the end, he’s out in the congregation dancing. Laying hands on bald heads and bringing people together. Because Paul Thorn runs a big tent where all are welcome (unless they’re mean) and they’re selling fireworks out the back.