The Olympia: Paris France Fan Show Review
07.10.2011 - My very personal review of John Mellencamp' s show in
"It took us 10 000 miles and 19 years to come back" John
told us on Tuesday night.
19 years. It had been indeed quite a while since the
'Whenever We Wanted Tour' and John’s previous
‘one-night-stand’ with the Parisian crowd at 'Le Zénith'
in April 1992. I don't know how many people from that
night were attending John's concert at the 'Olympia' on
Tuesday night, quite a few, I would say, by counting the
people proudly wearing their WWW Tour T-Shirts, washed
up and worn out for sure.
I wasn’t wearing mine. See, 19 years ago, I was 22 and I
have since put a bit of weight, so this T-Shirt does not
fit me so well anymore.
I was also afraid that my soul wouldn’t fit in. A lot of
things had changed over all those years : I had left
college, found a girlfriend, found a job, got married,
had become the Big Daddy of two daughters, bought a
home, and, a few weeks ago only, lost my Dad. "22 has
turned 41, I'm surprised that we're still living". I’m a
serious grown up person now. « Life goes on long after
the thrill of living is gone , doesn’t it ?
So booking for John’s concert at first seemed like
finding by chance a few photographs from my youth and
looking at them half-jokingly : « look at those hair,
were you wearing some kind of wig at the time ? Look at
those clothes, were you a fan of Kiss then? ». Don’t get
me wrong, I have listened again and again every new
album ever since and appreciated John’s work gaining in
maturity with every new release. But that was my point :
do mature people go to rock concerts and pretend
they’re still the young lions ?
Nonetheless, the « kid inside » me for once took control
of the driving wheel and made me buy two tickets for my
wife and I. Row 15, Center left. Although I had never
been to the Olympia, I knew the venue was outstanding
(this is probably the most famous concert hall in
France, people like Georges Brassens, Jacques Brel,
Edith Piaf or, more recently, the Rolling Stones, to
quote a few, have sung on this stage), that it was small
enough (1800 seats) to allow John and the band to really
communicate with the audience and that the accoustic was
supposed to be excellent.
At 7:15, I leave the office and walk up the Avenue de
l’Opéra to the Boulevard des Capucines to reach the
place 10 minutes later. Staring at the big red letters
that display ‘Une soirée avec John Mellencamp’ glowing
above the heavy trafic on the boulevard, I feel a burst
of joy in my chest. In 1992, the concert hall was in the
outskirts of town. But never could have I imagined that
I would see John’s name in the very heart of France's
millenarian Capital. Wait a minute, this guy is from
Bloomington, Indiana. I've been there twice, it is
probably as far from Parisian snobbery as Pluto is from
the Earth : "Get yourself a weapon 'cause they slice you
up in the melting pot". 23 years ago, when I moved to
Paris, my new friends were laughing at me whenever I
mentioned my sheer passion for this music and a man that
99.9% of them had never heard of. It would have been so
much easier to advocate for Springsteen or even Tom
Petty instead ... And now, this towering red neon sign
is the brightest proof that I was right, that John
Mellencamp really belongs to this Pantheon of the
greatest songwriters and singers. OK, I was right, who
Here is my love waiting for me. She has heard about John
for the first time 17 years ago, during our very first
conversation and I have since made sure that she
willy-nilly listens to every John song at least 50 times
(although not in a row) apart maybe for those on the 2
latest albums. Despite this brainwashing, I know she's
here for me at least as much as for the show.
After a sandwich and a beer, we move to take our seats.
The movie about the making of The No Better Than This
album starts while people are still arriving and the
noise prevents us from understanding the speaker. After
30 minutes, some people starts to complain in French :
"Get to work !". "Ok, thanks, we'll buy the DVD after
the show !". I fear that people in the room may not be
die-hard fans after all and that this could be a turnoff
for John and the band. The room is full though.
The movie finally ends and lights are switched on for
another 20 minutes to the great disappointment of the
Pitch black. Johnny Cash sings "God's gonna cut you
Light. Here he is, John Mellencamp in flesh and bones,
almost unreal after all those years. The first notes of
The Authority song are like a shot of hard drugs : the
brain is hijacked and, before you know it, the crowd
instantly stands up dancing and singing along, clapping
their hands spontaneously. No more booing, everyone
enters the trance and I'm in for my very own mystical
experience, a journey through space, time and myself.
There's not a song that I cannot personally relate to.
This has always puzzled me since it is statistically
impossible to have it all right. Ok, "The real life"
should ring a bell : "My whole life, I've done what I'm
supposed to do, now I''d like to maybe do something for
myself". But what can possibly be the connection between
a urban French middle aged white collar such as me and
"American kids growing up in the heartland", or a guy
whose "bed is in a small town", or Jacky Brown, "poorly
educated and forced to live in the poor side of town",
or a "scarecrow in the rain" ? John's alchemy probably
stems from his ability to blend abstract ideas such as
humanity and fraternity into his songs and turn them
into actual feelings for the listener, giving them
substance and reality. Over the years, he has made me
more open-minded and taught me to "Walk Tall".
Of course, as My Dad passed away just a month ago, songs
about Death have a special echo on that night. Death is
still an obsession for John, from the Authority Song
("Dying to me don't sound like all that much fun") to
'"If I die sudden" through "Don't need this body" or the
beautiful "Longest Days". But here also, maturity has
set in and there is a lesson to be learned in "Save some
time to dream". He's now far away from the gloom of
"Large world turning, live while you can" from the "Mr
Happy go Lucky" album.
The sound is excellent, neither too loud nor unbalanced,
way better than at any concert I've ever been to, the
engineer deserves a medal. On acoustic songs, you can
distinctly hear every guitar strum and the guy aka "The
Great Mumbler" is easy to understand, even for a mostly
French audience, when he speaks to us between songs. And
boy, he does talk to us a lot even with an audience that
won't let him because it cannot stop applauding the
previous song, especially after "Save some time to
The voice is mighty, the face expressive, the gesture
powerful. John is in full control of its territory and
yet, he frequently step aside whenever Andy, Myriam or
Mike are soloing. All the colors of John's palette are
used and perfectly balanced.
The re-invention of "Paper in fire", the very first song
from John that I've ever heard back in 1988, makes it
sound more prophetic than in its first version.
The show closes with "ROCK in the USA". John pulls a
young guy on stage (20 years old) during the bridge. I
think to myself that he's going to crash an burn : the
song is older than him and he's supposed to sing the
most difficult verse, nouns of people he has never heard
of. I see John whispering in his left ear what must be
the first line: "There was Frankie Lyman, Bobby Fuller,
Mitch Ryder!...". John ! He's French ! There's no way he
can make it. Even me, after singing it a zillion times
over the last 23 years, I still can't !
The boy seizes the mic with both hands and makes a
perfect delivery !!! The crowd is on fire !
The show ends, John is the last to leave the stage. The
intense light makes him look pale and tired : he has
given everything he had, the best he could do. But he
looks happy and, as far as I can tell, surprised by this
French audience which he hardly knew and that seems to
like his music so much ( I know what a pissed-off John
looks like : in 1998, I attended a show in Munich where
John was promoting the "John Mellencamp" album at the
time : the venue looked like a warehouse, there was
virtually no stage and the audience was catatonic apart
from the 1st rows where I was standing).
I feel relieved that my fellow countrymen have finally
done him justice. I check my wife's reaction : she's
extatic and tells me that I should write a review of the
show. I just can't stop smiling...
Jean-Cyril - Paris - France
Here is the Setlist, I think this is accurate.
Unfortunately, "the Real Life" and "What if I came
knock'in" were not included and there was no 'Encore'
which is a pity when you consider that this is a French
1. Authority Song
2. No One Cares About Me
3. Death Letter
4. John Cockers
5. Walk Tall
6. The West End
7. Check It Out
8. Save Some Time To Dream
9. Cherry Bomb
10. Don't Need This Body
11. Easter Eve
12. Jack & Diane
13. Jackie Brown
14. Longest Days
15. Small Town
16. Rain on the Scarecrow
17. Paper in Fire
18. Crumblin' Down
19. If I Die Sudden
20. Pink Houses
21. R.O.C.K. in the U.S.A.