Paul Thorn, the former boxer turned roots music singer-songwriter, delivered a knockout performance at the F.M. Kirby Center for the Performing Arts on Friday.
Thorn, whose music is a blend of blues and rock with a smidge of gospel learned as the son of a Pentecostal preacher, was the latest artist to grace the Wilkes-Barre theater’s Chandelier Lobby, or as he called it, “The they-can’t-fill-the-big-room room.”
The 50-year-old singer and prolific songwriter raised in Tupelo, Mississippi also brought a boatload of Southern charm as he sang songs about his mama’s leftovers, living in sin, trying to be good but coming up short, and other assorted “positive anthems” he wrote for his latest album, “Too Blessed To Be Stressed.”
Thorn, sitting at center stage for his acoustic set, began Friday’s show with “Turnip Greens,” introducing it by saying, “I wrote this one as a thank you to my mama for always sending leftovers home with me when I would come over for dinner.”
He followed with “I’m Still Here” and “What Have You Done to Lift Somebody Up,” a pair of tunes from his 2008 album, “Long Way from Tupelo.”
Next up was a song about doing the best you can, “I Hope I’m Doing This Right,” from Thorn’s most successful album to date, 2010’s “Pimps and Preachers,” which debuted at No. 83 on the Billboard 200.
Thorn went back to his “Ain’t Love Strange” collection from 2000 for “Blue Stew” before scoring with “Love On Me” and “Don’t Let Nobody Rob You of Your Joy.” Following the latter, he thanked those in the audience who sang along, even the ones who didn’t sing along so well.
“The Bible said to make a joyful noise,” he said. “It doesn’t say it has to be a pleasant one.”
After a few more acoustic tunes, Thorn ended his first set with “Hammer & Nail,” the title song from his 1997 debut album, which talks about his 1988 nationally televised fight with Roberto Duran.
Thorn started his electric set with the one-two punch of “Everybody Looks Good at the Starting Line” (from 2011’s “Mission Temple Fire Works Stand”) and “I Don’t Like Half the Folks I Love,” a great song about family reunions and drinking buddies from 2010’s “Pimps and Preachers.”
He then followed with “Pimps and Preachers” itself and “What Kind of Roof Do You Live Under” from his latest album, before doing a pair from his 2012 covers album “What the Hell is Goin’ On?” including the title track and “Snake Farm.”
Thorn’s four-piece backing band – Bill Hinds (guitar), Michael “Dr. Love” Graham (keyboards), Jeffrey Perkins (drums) and Ralph Friedrichsen (bass) – were cooking all night long, especially on “Doctor My Eyes,” Thorn’s contribution to a Jackson Browne tribute album that also includes tracks by Don Henley, Bonnie Raitt and Bruce Springsteen.
Thorn displayed his keen sense of humor all evening, introducing most songs with a humorous tale. After he introduced his band, he said, “My name is Paul Thorn and I failed the sixth grade.
“But,” he added, “I kicked its ass the second time.”
Thorn finished up his nearly two-and-a-half hour performance with “Everything’s Gonna Be Alright” and “This Is a Real Goodbye” from the new album, “Accept My Love” from “Ain’t Love Strange” and the title track from “Mission Temple Fire Works Stand.”
“Until we meet again, here’s a song from my heart,” Thorn said as he came down from the makeshift stage to shake hands, pose for pictures and hug his fans throughout the last song, “Take My Love with You.”