Notre Dame's Observer: Mellencamp Rocks The Morris In South Bend
The Observer By Ross Finney
In more than 30 years in the music business, John Mellencamp has learned how to
work a crowd. With plenty of charm, and more than a couple good jokes, the
native Hoosier had the packed audience in the palm of his hand Saturday at his
excellent performance at the Morris Performing Arts Center.
There was plenty of love for Indiana's biggest rock ‘n' roll star, and the
Morris, which can seem a little stuffy, didn't stifle the enthusiasm or the fun.
More than a few moms rocked out, many right in front the stage, dancing and
having a fantastic time. The booze was flowing, everyone clapped and sang along
when they could, and one man even ran through the aisles with a John Mellencamp
The show began with his band playing mostly acoustic instruments, and Mellencamp
did a run-through of songs largely culled from his most recent albums "No Better
than This" and 2008's "Life, Death, Love and Freedom."
He started out with his classic, "The Authority Song," which he gave a bit of a
rockabilly flavor that suited the song very well and really primed the audience.
After that he broke into the new song, "Nobody Cares About Me," which was upbeat
Later in the set, he covered Son House's blues song "Death Letter" to which
Mellencamp's voice was surprisingly suited. Guitarist Andy York provided slide
guitar, which was amazingly dark and moody. The song highlighted Mellencamp's
great talent for channeling the more traditional styles of music that have so
heavily influenced his last two albums.
Mellencamp told the audience about his interaction with a fan right before the
show, when the fan asked him if he was playing the old favorites. To that
Mellencamp jokingly said he tried to look ahead most of the time, but he just
might make a promise to play one or two songs. He then went into an a cappella
solo version of the favorite "Cherry Bomb," to which the audience knew every
The mostly solo acoustic set followed, the highlight of which may have been his
great song "Jackie Brown." He was joined by violinist Miriam Strum, whose
playing added a new depth and strikingly sad quality to what is already a rather
bleak song, and it was spectacular. Throughout the night, Strum's violin added
rich texture to the arrangements, and gave the whole performance a very likable
"Jack and Diane" may have been the most controversial of the songs to which he
gave new arrangement. Giving it a laid back country two-step, Mellencamp changed
the tune from an Americana anthem to more thoughtful folksy reminiscence on
life. Audience reception was lukewarm, though many still sang along as though
the tune were its rocking former self.
Immediately following "Jack and Diane" was a solo acoustic version of the
classic "Small Town," which was fantastic. Not significantly different in
arrangement, but just stripped down, the song got at right to the core of South
Bend's appreciation for Mellencamp. It was simple, bold and passionately sung,
both by Mellencamp and the audience.
His full rock band closed out the night, performing many of the old favorites.
He managed to slip in a couple new tracks, but the audience was really there to
hear the songs they've loved for years. "Pink Houses" was as rocking as ever and
its lyrics about the failure of the American Dream are as pertinent as ever.
The last song of the night was "R.O.C.K. in the USA" which was a great closer. A
cheerful ending note, the song sounded fresh, and Mellencamp even pulled a woman
from the audience to dance with him, which was as hilarious as it was simply
awesome on his part.
Among his many asides, he gave some advice to the younger folks out there,
saying that when he was young he thought he knew a lot. But, he's also lived a
great a deal since then, and that he might have picked up some knowledge along
the way, and that made him dangerous. He humorously warned that there's "nothing
worse than a dangerous old man." If a dangerous old man can continue to put on
shows like his, there might be nothing better.