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Saskatoon's Star Phoenix: Rejuvenated Mellencamp Rules The Road
04.23.2011 - The Star Phoenix By Cam Fuller

Stripped down and overhauled: It works for hotrods and Harleys and it works for something just as American — the songs of John Mellencamp.

In contrast to his full-on arena show from three years ago, Mellencamp showed up Tuesday night at TCU Place with a concert that’s been customized down to the last detail.

Mellencamp seems to be inspired and rejuvenated in his roots-blues period. His latest album No Better Than This is the first mono recording to hit the top 10 since 1964.

Mellencamp wrote the 13 songs in 13 days and recorded the album in three historically significant places: The First African Baptist Church in Savannah, Sun Studio in Memphis and the Gunter Hotel in San Antonio, room 414. The church, the oldest black church in

America, protected fleeing slaves before emanicipation. Sun, of course, was home to Johnny Cash and Elvis Presley. The Gunter Hotel was where Robert Johnson recorded 75 years ago. The sessions were captured on one mike and ancient recording gear, inviting the ghosts to inhabit the notes.

Without apology, Mellencamp started the show with a solid run of his new-old songs: The almost comical feeling-sorry-for-myself No One Cares About Me loped along with a country gait. Death Letter was all drums and bass to start with before the band kicked in, loud, adding mandolin, fiddle and accordion for that Mellencampian signature sound. The metaphorical John Cocker hinted at how theatrical the show could become, with Mellencamp adding extra grit to his voice and hunching over to play a hermit who says he don’t need nobody, cut off from the world much like a country that “ain’t got no friends.”

As far as entertaining the masses goes, it was a risky tactic — not as dangerous as a suicide shifter but maybe close. The show actually started with the hour-long documentary It’s About You, a cool but overlong road diary in Super 8 by Kurt and Ian Markus. It got rolling a few minutes before 7 p.m., with half the house still in line for drinks.

Shot over a month on tour when Mellencamp was playing minor league baseball parks in 2009, the documentary is a rumination on ruination, a lament on film of a decaying America to compliment Mellencamp’s own musical views on the subject. Kurt Markus looks at the ruins of yet another city’s downtown and remembers when America was an example for the world. The “great levelling,” where other less advanced nations would catch up to the United States, happened in reverse, Markus concludes — instead of them becoming more like us, we became more like them. Looking at a third-world version of Texas through the grainy film, you can’t disagree. Markus calls it “a Texas pompeii, scary, thrilling.”

Not everyone was in the mood for sociology, however, no matter how artfully rendered. With 10 minutes to go in the film, the fans who just wanted to par-tay were getting restless, trying to get the crowd to chant “Mellencamp.” Too many syllables to catch on, thank goodness.

As America crumbles, Mellencamp rebuilds. He started the show with a cleverly re-imagined Authority Song, tuned to run like the late-’50s hit I Fought the Law. Nice. Was not expecting that.

At times, Mellencamp was fighting a lonely battle against short attention spans and the need for instant gratification. He was introduced as a champion of the family farm and free speech, but had to confront a loud mouth schnook early on, a guy who just seemed to like to yell for no particular reason. So the champion of free speech said “Why don’t you sit yourself down for a minute?” before he played Save Some Time to Dream on solo acoustic guitar. The thoughtful message song would have been lovely but for the continued outbursts and moronic whistling.

The headliner remained undaunted, thankfully, and continued with a brilliantly imagined and wonderfully executed concert that was full of surprises. He did Cherry Bomb a capella. His arrangement of Jackie Brown, with only acoustic guitar and violinist Miriam Sturm, was beautiful — unassuming but powerful. Jack and Diane was turned into a super cool Texas two-step. Subtly brilliant was an instrumental version of Minutes to Memories with only violin and accordion in silhouette under one spotlight.

And, for those who can’t handle change, there was full-on rock by the end, the momentum building with Rain on the Scarecrow and Paper in Fire, with the promise of Pink Houses and R.O.C.K. in the U.S.A. still to come after deadline.

Roof chopped and fenders bobbed, following a dotted line across a land of promises made and broken, Mellencamp is an American Classic.


great show!

Saw John and his WONDERFUL band in Saskatoon last week-an incredible show! So glad he hit the Western part of Canada again!

Posted by ShannonN 2011-04-26 16:48:02.


John, I have been a fan of yours since I was 14 and now 45. When coming to Jazzfest in New Orleans, please sing the 80's songs? Cherry Bomb, Hurt So Good, Small Town, Jack and Diane etc. I cant handle you changing into the blues. That is not so like you. All of the songs you have written is awesome and also somewhat true about it. You are so cute and still are. I am asking you please do not disappoint the fans and me. I dont even know any of your blues songs. I want to have a good memory of this and this to be the best night of my life! I hope you will play most of the 80's and you can play like 3 blues??? Would love to hear Hand hold on to in a concert! I wish you would do the full cherry bomb song since that is my favorite!

Posted by dherm66 2011-04-25 01:40:30.

wish i was there

Sounds like an awesome show wld've loved to see the movie before show started-nice touch as long as it doesnt cut into music playing time!bring this show back home near louisville.always dreamed of seeing shows like this.sheesh dig deeper into the 80's and 90's mellencamp catalog.some of my favorites i have only seen once live!seen a acoustic version of "women seem" in deer creek i believe,that was phenomenal,never seen it since and i have been to about 35 mellencamp shows,so i know what im talking about,got some shirts to prove it LOL.

Posted by joshcarolina 2011-04-24 10:27:31.





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