The Oakland Press: John Mellencamp Puts a Fresh Spin on the Hits In Latest Show
The Oakland Press By GARY GRAFF
DETROIT -- About a third of the way into his concert Friday night (Nov. 19) at
the Fox Theatre, John Mellencamp informed the crowd that, "This ain't no rock
show anymore. This is a vaudeville thing. Me standing up here playing those hit
songs is over."
Those would be fighting words from some artists. But for Mellencamp it was par
for the course, part of four decades of refining and reinventing himself -- and
still leaving 'em R.O.C.K.ing in the U.S.A. by the end of the night.
Friday's 25-song, just over two-hour show offered the Indiana troubadour's
latest permutation, promoting his rootsy latest album "No Better Than This"
alongside highlights and choice deep cuts from his catalog in a variety of
contexts and ensemble variations of his crack six-piece band. Two-thirds of the
night was stripped-down in some fashion, from the rowdy, semi-unplugged kickoff
of "The Authority Song" to the twangy rockabilly of "No One Cares About Me," the
folky soul of "Deep Blue Heart" and earnest grit of "Death Letter," "West End"
and "Don't Need This Body."
Mellencamp took a solo turn on "Save Some Time to Dream" and received late-song
accompaniment on songs such as "Jackie Brown" and "Small Town," while "Jack and
Diane" was rendered as a country shuffle and "Cherry Bomb" was delegated to an a
capella first verse and chorus singalong. He also threw down a gauntlet to any
youths in the audience while segueing into "Don't Need This Body" and delivered
a humorous rap about a supposed encounter with the devil when he was 15 at the
start of "Right Behind Me."
The last 40 minutes, however, rewarded the fans with exactly what they wanted --
a set of charged electric rockers starting with a pounding "Rain on the
Scarecrow" and a twisted arrangement of "Paper in Fire" before rolling through
"The Real Life," "What If I Came Knocking," "If I Die Sudden" and a rave-up
rendition of "No Better Than This' " title track. The anthems "Pink Houses" and
"R.O.C.K. in the U.S.A." finished the night on a high note, showing that
Mellencamp wasn't necessarily "over" playing the hit songs -- as long as he
could indulge in his own creative whims first.
The evening began not with an opening act but with a movie, a 75-minute
documentary by Kurt Marcus about Mellencamp's 2009 tour and the recording of "No
Better Than This" at three historic locations in the U.S. It was modest but
entertaining, propelled by Marcus' gentle narration, but the film too often got
lost in the hubub of the arriving crowd -- so here's hoping for the inevitable
DVD release at some point.