Kansas City Star: No Better Than This Tour The Midland Show Review
Kansas City Star By Joel Francis
Friday night’s sold-out John Mellencamp show at the Midland Theater was the
tale of two concerts.
For the first 90 minutes, Mellencamp used his vast songbook to explore the nooks
and crannies of American music. Opener “Authority Song” was stripped of its big
country riff and rode bare bones on the spare bass and drum line. Later in the
show, “Jack and Diane” was given the same treatment, with Miriam Strum’s violin
shouldering the melody.
“No One Cares About Me” resembled prime-era Johnny Cash with a boom-chicka
rhythm section and guitarist Andy York doing his best Carl Perkins impression.
“Deep Blue Heart” sounded like an outtake from Bob Dylan’s “Time Out Of Mind.”
While there weren’t any jump-to-your-feet, hands-in-the-air climaxes during this
part, there were a few goose bump-inducing moments. The smallest moments were
the biggest, like Mellencamp’s poignant solo, acoustic delivery of “Jackie
Brown,” where he was joined by Strum at the end.
A subdued “Check It Out” had the wistful air of someone watching their
grandchildren play in the yard. Later, the entire theater clapped and sang along
as Mellencamp sang “Cherry Bomb” without his band or his guitar.
It was clear, however, that the crowd wasn’t expecting a low-key evening. The
chatter from the bar downstairs floated into the balcony during the quiet
“Longest Days.” Story/songs “Right Behind Me” and “Easter Eve” lacked a
traditional chorus and struggled to captivate the crowd.
After the beautiful violin/accordion duet of “New Hymn,” the full drum kit that
had been tantalizing the crowd all night was finally put to use. Starting with
the heartland hymn “Rain on the Scarecrow,” Mellencamp and his six-piece backing
band cut loose and delivered 30 minutes of the expected energetic sing-alongs.
With each song, the band raised the volume and dropped formality. Singles like
“Pink Houses” drew the biggest responses, while the band seemed to relish
trotting out album cuts “The Real Life” and “No Better Than This.”
In a way, Mellencamp served as his own opening act. As the audience found their
seats an hour-long documentary played. The film showed Mellencamp on tour and as
he recorded his latest album at Sun Studios in Memphis, the San Antonio hotel
room where Robert Johnson once recorded, and First African Baptist Church in
Mellencamp recorded the album using a single microphone to capture the entire
band in one take. The approach may puzzle some fans, but it’s clear from the
first half of the night that his songwriting chops are as strong as ever. The
struggle will be to win fans over to new arrangements and sounds that don’t
resemble the long-loved radio hits.
After a little more than two hours, the house lights were up, and Mellencamp was
safely shuttled to his Airstream trailer parked behind the building. A large
portion of the crowd lingered, whistling and clapping in vain as the stage was
cleared. The evening wasn’t a complete success, but it was enough to leave them
Setlist: Authority Song; No One Cares About Me; Deep Blue Heart; Death Letter;
Walk Tall; The West End; Check It Out; Save Some Time To Dream (solo, acoustic);
Cherry Bomb (a capella); Don’t Need This Body; Right Behind Me; Jackie Brown
(solo, acoustic); Longest Days; Easter Eve; Jack and Diane; Small Town (solo,
acoustic); New Hymn; Rain on the Scarecrow; Paper and Fire; The Real Life; Human
Wheels; If I Die Sudden; No Better Than This; Pink Houses; R.O.C.K. in the