Indianpolis NUVO Entertainment Paper: Hinkle Fieldhouse Show Review
NUVO.net By Rob Nichols
For most of Thursday night's John Mellencamp show at Hinkle Fieldhouse
("first show here since 1967", Mellencamp commented), it was nearly all you
could want: good sound, a refreshingly patient and attentive crowd, and a tight,
rehearsed and raw band that seemed to be enjoying their own performance. The
show faltered only near the end when it tried to be what it wasn't.
Though heavy on new material, Mellencamp, who looked fit and handsome in an
all-black suit and black shirt, smartly mixed reworked crowd favorites into the
25-song setlist to provide familiar memories paired with less familiar songs.
From the opening "Authority Song", the template of three guitars teamed with a
John E. Gee's stand-up bass and Dane Clark's stand-up drum kit sounded good.
Enough power to push the music, there was also room created for delicate
Americana musical touches. Andy York played an underrated, nuanced and nasty
rock guitar, and the entire band was gritty and truthful. John's bands have
always been good, and this one has found a home in the recent material.
The opening half-dozen songs were highlighted by an amazing recasting of "Walk
Tall" into a Little Feat song, it's loping groove and Silver Bullet Band piano
from Troye Kinnett earned it a place of one of the best performances of the
night. Singing "grace, mercy and forgiveness help a man walk tall" illuminated
the lyrical theme of the evening: A wiser, less caustic Mellencamp has emerged
on his recent records. He understands mortality is part of life, and works to
share with his audience those lessons - and that finding a realistic but
fufilling emotional life is a constant, struggling quest.
"West End" from the new No Better Than This album sounded like a close cousin to
The Lonesome Jubilee's "Hard Times for an Honest Man", and led to John dance
across the front of the stage, facing the band - not the calculated "look at the
entertainer" moves of 25 years ago, but the actions of someone lost in his own
The Hinkle crowd grasped the wistful version of "Check it Out", with John and
guitarist Mike Wanchic working in some old Market Square Arena over-the-head
handclaps. Instead of a whiz-bang light show and big screens, John elected to go
with subtle changes and no video boards, effectively pulling the eyes of the
crowd to the performers.
A story about how his Dad told John to "have fun every day" led into the solo
acoustic version of "Save Some Time to Dream", a gospel/folk song that serves as
the lead track on his latest album and the beginning of a portion of the concert
that featured solo acoustic guitar playing from Mellencamp, with some occasional
help from Miriam Sturm's violin and Kinnett's accordian. An acapella (though
shortened) version of "Cherry Bomb" quickly became an audience singalong.
Mellencamp told his most engaging story of the night leading into the "Longest
Days", as an unusually talkative Mellencamp (I've seen concerts of his that
include only a hello, some thank you's and a good night) recounted lying in bed
with his dying Grandma when he was 42 years old, and she telling him that "life
is short, even in its longest days"
Recasting "Jack and Diane" into a new groove didn't diminish the audience's
ability to sing it back to the stage, and a pleasing "Small Town" was performed
solo under a blue spotlight.
The back portion of the two-hour, ten-minute show rolled forward with the more
traditional full rock band setup and a bombastic "Rain on the Scarecrow", as the
old building and all its brick played havoc with the low end in the sound mix,
creating a bass rumble that overpowered the song, and similar problems plagued
"Paper in Fire" and "The Real Life", diminishing their effectiveness. The band
fought through "Human Wheels" to reach "If I Die Sudden" and "No Better Than
This", two newer songs that again connected with both the band and the audience.
By this time, the sound guys had done a pretty nice job of getting the mix into
a good place again, and "Pink Houses" and "R.O.C.K. in the U.S.A." closed the
show with good vibes, though lacking some of the fire in the songs played
The night's revelation? As the set wound down. there was no need for obligatory
show closers, though they were included. The crowd in the fieldhouse accepted
his new music - aided by the band's ability to make it rock. The first part of
the show was more than good enough to satisfy - it was excellent. His new music
is not his 80's hit music; he is no longer the rural punk rock band leader. He
doesn't have to be.