Delaware's The News Journal: No Arena Rock in Mellencamp Tour
The News Journal By Peter Bothum
It was a major bummer to discover that the man behind "Jack & Diane" does not
do phone interviews in advance of shows.
But it was a nice consolation prize to discover the man who came up with the
tune's unforgettable guitar hook, Mike Wanchic, was willing to serve as John
As Mellencamp's bandleader for more than 34 years, Wanchic (who came up with the
little guitar part that comes before the handclaps) has become a master at
handling Mellencamp's dirty work, which often requires checking his ego at the
door of the studio or the foot of the stage.
"John's a songwriter. He has incredibly good instincts. My job is to lay stuff
on him. I'm a melody writer," Wanchic said, calling from Washington, D.C., where
Mellencamp and the band were slated to play on Tuesday. "I think democracy is a
bad thing in rock and roll. I think you have to have creative vision, and
someone has to see that thing all the way through.
"I've come up with parts that I thought were brilliant and they got pitched, but
ultimately they got pitched for the greater good."
Wanchic said Mellencamp's current tour reflects the direction he went in his
latest album, the stripped-down, critically hailed "No Better Than This." It's
an exploration into honest, barebones folk and roots, and as such the tour is a
more mature affair, where audiences can sit instead of stand to better focus on
the actual music.
"It's not an arena rock show like it's been for the last 30 years," said Wanchic,
who lives 10 miles from Mellencamp in their native Bloomington, Ind. "This tour
is based very seriously around
great songs and a lot of times doesn't involve big hits."
Don't worry: Fans will still hear a fair share of hits.
"We know we owe certain things to our audience," Wanchic said. "Yeah, you gotta
play 'Jack and Diane.' (But) we've completely rearranged it. The song is there,
the music is there. We've allowed all of these old hits to grow with us."
In addition to classic songs and a heavy dose from the new record, fans will
also hear deeper cuts like "The Real Life" off of 1987's "Lonesome Jubilee."
There are three sets with different band arrangements that interchange upright
bass, mandolin, violin and acoustic guitars.
Because of the more intimate musical setup -- at one point Andy York is on
banjo, Mellencamp is on acoustic guitar and Wanchic plays mandolin -- the
players have less margin for error.
"Your ass is hanging out," Wanchic said. "I've never seen John this exposed,
this vulnerable on stage."
This isn't exactly true. Mellencamp was quite exposed in the 1980s as an early
icon of MTV. And because he was a star of those epic videos -- kicking dust with
the band in "Pink Houses," rocking out in the biker bar in "Hurts So Good" --
Wanchic was exposed too and is now a part of pop culture history.
"I guess I don't think about it a great deal. Nobody thinks a thing of it. It's
just part of the fabric of my daily life," Wanchic said. "We were there at the
very beginnings of MTV, and I think it provided people with a lot of exposure to
an audience. It just doesn't exist anymore, in the same way that physical
product doesn't exist anymore."
Mellencamp, with Wanchic leading his band, will be at the Academy of Music in
Philadelphia at 7 p.m. Monday. Tickets range from $48.50-$130 and are available
by calling 215-893-1999 or online at www.kimmelcenter.org.