The Tennessean: John Mellencamp's Ryman Show Mixes Nostalgia, Americana
Tennessean.com By Dave Paulson
On his acclaimed new album, No Better Than This, and again at his Ryman
Auditorium concert Wednesday night, John Mellencamp showed old-school Americana
to be a remarkably comfortable fit.
But as masterful as his mix of blues, folk and Sun Records rock was, some
members of his audience had trouble slipping into the sound.
“‘Jack and Diane’!” a female voice called out from the balcony between songs,
pleading for Mellencamp's famous hit.
“I’ll get to it, sister,” the singer playfully responded. “Now that’s the
problem with a lot of women — they’re just not patient. I’ll get to it!”
Mellencamp paced his two-hour-plus show like a three-act play, moving from a
stripped-down roots-rock set to an acoustic portion to a celebratory rock
finale. As a room that still looks very much like it did back in the 1940s
through ’70s when it housed the Grand Ole Opry, the Ryman is likely the kind of
venue Mellencamp had in mind when he put this new, old-timey tour together.
Wednesday's show opened with a single spotlight on the center of the Ryman’s
closed curtains, an offstage announcer making a “ladies and gentlemen”
introduction. The curtains opened on Mellencamp and band, bathed in plain white
lights, who launched into his 1983 hit “Authority Song,” stripping a bit of the
song’s punk-inspired charge and applying a lighter, ’50s rock rhythm. It was the
first of many musical compromises Mellencamp made with his hard-driving rock
Those hits came sprinkled between a large helping of No Better Than This tunes.
“It’s not my nature to be nostalgic at all,” Mellencamp sang on the new
“Thinking About You.”
He’s certainly sporting when it comes to playing those old favorites, but when
Mellencamp doesn’t have the crowd’s nostalgia to rest on, a new, determined
frontman springs to life. The anthemic “Save Some Time to Dream” instantly
brightened the crowd, and the Pogues-esque Irish ballad “Easter Eve” kept
listeners latched on through six minutes of verses.
Poverty tale “Jackie Brown” was one oldie Mellencamp had less trouble
“I wrote this song in 1987,” he said, “thinking about the same thing that’s
That song, along with “Small Town,” were given the solo acoustic treatment.
Mellencamp stripped down the beloved “Cherry Bomb” even further, providing an a
cappella audience singalong and easily one of the evening’s high points.
That promised time to play “Jack and Diane” came around, and Mellencamp brought
the full band along, but gave the song a radically new arrangement. Gone were
the famous drawn-out electric guitar chords and handclap-driven beat, a
double-time country shuffle taking their place. It was a bold move, and the
Ryman was an inspired setting for it, but it wasn’t exactly the moment casual
fans were waiting for.
In the end, Mellencamp rewarded all of his admirers with a crowd-pleasing,
full-band final act that featured his classics in all their glory. The
pew-shaking “Pink Houses” led into the closing “R.O.C.K. In the U.S.A.,” its
power inspiring one female fan to climb onto the stage for an impromptu dance
with Mellencamp. In those final moments, he seemed game to let nostalgia take