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Classic Rock Blog: John Mellencamp Dallas Concert Review
03.09.2015 - Classic Rock Blog

John Mellencamp lied. Four years ago, he toured in support of an album called No Better Than This. Truth is, each tour that Mellencamp does is better than the last. Saturday’s performance at McFarlin Auditorium on the SMU campus in Dallas was full of fire, grit and passion. Mellencamp’s introspective songs and his band’s fiery performances had fans clinging to every note and shouting along to just about every lyric.

With a new album to support, Plain Spoken, Mellencamp got the evening started with a one-two punch of fresh material, “Lawless Times” and “Troubled Man.” Mellencamp’s grizzly voice added dramatic emphasis to the introspective nature of the tunes: “Anxiety and sorrow underneath my skin/Self destruction and failure had beat my head in…I am a Troubled Man.” The songs reflect Mellencamp’s recent shift in focus from the common man to every man. Tackling issues of failure and mortality, Mellencamp’s songs have become raw, stripped down reflections on life.

In a brilliant move, Mellencamp followed up with “Minutes to Memories” from Scarecrow. A battle cry of sorts, the song laid down the theme for the evening: “Days turn to minutes and minutes to memories/Life strips away the dreams that we have planned/You are young and you are the future/So suck it up and tough it out as long as you can.”

Having delivered the audience their marching orders, Mellencamp lightened the mood with a full-band version of “Small Town.” He then amused the crowd with some fancy dancing at the beginning of the Robert Johnson classic, “Stones in My Passway.” At times, Mellencamp evoked the spirit of James Brown as he strutted across the stage, pouring everything he had into the vocals.

It quickly became clear that the audience wanted to give their all as well, shouting along to “Check it Out” and all but drowning out Mellencamp on “Jack & Diane.” Mellencamp said he always laughs when he performs the song because he remembers what he was doing when he wrote it.

Lighting a cigarette, Mellencamp then launched into a surreal, yet stunning version of “The Full Catastrophe.” With just Troye Kinnett on piano, the Americana tune was given a lounge-like makeover. Mellencamp’s smoky vocals and embellished delivery turned the deep track into a fun number and special treat for long-time fans.

Opener Carlene Carter, daughter of June Carter Cash, joined Mellencamp on stage for “Away from this World” and “Tear This Cabin Down.” The songs come from Ghost Brothers of Darkland County. A musical that Mellencamp recently wrote with horror novelist Stephen King.

Then came the five-alarm fire portion of the show. Scorching versions of Mellencamp hits played with incredible ferocity and emotion. With drummer Dane Clark switching over to his full drum set and Mellencamp stripping off his suit jacket, “Rain on the Scarecrow” took on a pounding and fierce anthem like persona. “Paper in Fire,” “Crumblin’ Down” and “Authority Song” were flat-out rockers that gave Miriam Sturm (violins), Andy York (guitar) and Mike Wanchic (guitar) well-earned applause that brought just about everyone to their feet.

While the evening started off with deep introspection, it ended with a playful touch of nostalgia. Mellencamp joked that everyone loves to talk about old times, but the problem is you have to be old to have them. He then launched into “Cherry Bomb.” The song’s whimsical lyrics proved that there is no shame in growing older: “Now 17 has turned 35/I’m surprised that we’re still living…When I think back on those days/All I can do is sit back and smile.” It’s what you do in the days and minutes in between that matters. And, in Mellencamp’s case, things only get better with age.
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