Atlanta's Examiner.com: John Mellencamp at Atlanta's FOX Theatre - Outstanding!
Examiner.com By Sam Dobrow
I just returned from the John Mellencamp concert at Atlanta's Fox Theater and I
must say John still has the fire at 59. Mellencamp has been one of Rock and
Roll's icons with twenty-two Top 40 hits throughout his career. His brand of
Heartland Rock and Roll is recognized for its grassroots, rural character making
the claim for the working middle class and agricultural farm life. Mellencamp
has always had a tight band featuring a fast beat with a strong percussion and
bass signature. Add some fancy fiddle playing with electric and acoustic
guitars, synthesizers, and Mellencamp's passionate raspy vocals and you have all
the ingredients for rock and roll that will lift you out of your seat and start
you dancing around the room.
Mellencamp's show deviates from the current trends in slick techno productions.
The set is a simple stage with traditional spot lighting and a simple backdrop -
there is nothing techno about this show except the excellent sound system. This
could easily be a set for Saturday Night Live or one of the late night talk
shows. The performance is very traditional, it's pure Mellencamp.
In place of a warm up band, the show begins with an hour long documentary film
"Its About You" on the making of Mellencamp's latest album, "No Better Than
This". The film is shot using a grainy film technique to give it a low-budget,
dated, and nostalgic feel. The screen is set up in the middle of the stage much
as one might have set up in a living room for 8mm home movies in the 1960's. The
audience is introduced to the new material on the album and they get a look into
the emotions, dialog, settings, and jumpy videography that went into recording
these songs on location. Then there is a 20 minute intermission and the live
show begins. A quick introduction and the curtain rises.
One thing that struck me in a funny way is the different theme that Mellencamp
brings to this tour to promote his latest album. In the past Mellencamp has
written anti-government, politically fueled songs about rural farm life, middle
class strife, and racial tensions. His music was written to influence people and
opinions. I would have expected with all the problems with the collapse of the
middle class, home foreclosures, unemployment, social and political
polarization, climate change and more that John Mellencamp would have some
pretty strong words to say in his songs but, in his new album, it seems that he
is questioning his own mortality. Many of his messages deal with the the duel
between the devil and Jesus as well as his fear (or lack of fear) of dying. One
act features John "dancing with the devil". At another point in the show he
shares a story of laying in bed with his dying grandmother as she calls the lord
to take them both. And Mellencamp even jokes about his smoking habit saying he's
"smoked over 650,000 cigarettes in his life - can he get his money back" and
then he sings a song about his body being worn out. These new songs are still
characterized by the strong bass and drums of his early work but the tone is
darker and more haunting with a slower beat.
Adding humor to the performance midway through the show, Mellencamp tells a
story of meeting a guy named "Jerry" on the streets of Atlanta earlier in the
day. Jerry says he is coming to the show and asks John to play his old songs at
the show. John is not interested in playing his old stuff and blurts back at
Jerry, "the past is nothing" but then he agrees to sing one song Jerry
requested, "Cherry Bomb" which he does as a tribute to Jerry in a strange way.
John sings Cherry Bomb illuminated by a single spotlight with no musical
accompaniment nor does he strike a single chord on his guitar but the power and
rhythm of his voice are so moving it brings tears to the eyes. After the song,
Mellencamp returns to his slate of new material up until he announces the end of
the show when he asks people to sing along if they know the words to a few of
his older songs. The concert ends with an upbeat, high energy compilation of
several hits including "Scarecrow", "R-O-C-K in the USA", and "Paper in Fire".
After the band leaves the stage, Mellencamp takes a couple bows and exits
himself. No gimmicky "keep the lights dim while the crowd cheers for an encore"
- this concert is over.