Red Deer Advocate: Red Deer Much Better After John Mellencamp Visit
By Penny Caster Advocate staff - February 15, 2008
John Mellencamp plays a rousing rendition of his hit Paper and Fire during his
show at the Centrium Thursday. The farm boy from Indiana, whoíll be inducted
into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame next month, had the sold-out crowd on its
feet from the opening number Pink Houses.
Maybe we should adopt him, make John Mellencamp an honorary Canadian or
something along those lines.
Oh sure, he wears his American blue-collar roots on his sleeve and heís a
serious campaigner for social justice in the U.S. ó a facet of the man that is
reflected in his song-writing.
But if the 5,000-plus crowd packed into Red Deerís Enmax Centrium Thursday night
is anything to go by from the way they lapped him up, we could at least share
And donít we suffer from many of the same ills as our neighbours to the south?
Mellencamp urged us all to be better people.
ďIf you want this world to be a better place, it starts with each and every one
of us,Ē he said, after telling us about his early years, playing at 14 with
older musicians including one African-American.
That man was obliged to leave the room between sets thanks to segregation, and
was attacked by an audience member just because of his colour.
That yarn was to introduce a moving new song Mellencamp has written called Jena.
Thatís the town in Louisiana where white students strung nooses from a tree
under which only white kids sat during breaks, due to some unwritten rule.
The black students had asked the day before for permission to also sit there.
The chorus is the song is ďOh, oh, take your nooses down.Ē
Video images from the civil rights era played on the giant stage backdrop behind
Mellencamp as he sang.
When Mellencamp hit the stage for the start of his hour and 45 minute set, he
got one of the warmest welcomes ever seen at the Centrium before he even said a
Pretty much the whole arena was on its feet and cheering in anticipation of the
He didnít disappoint.
Mellencamp is 56 and heís in great shape. He moved and danced around the stage
like a man half his age.
His voice is as powerful and moving as ever, and the guy can rock.
He is a songwriter with real depth, covering the issues of an America he cares
about in a way that puts him in the same category as others such as John Prine.
To help put it all across, Mellencamp has an awesome band, including a female
fiddle player who played her heart out.
Many of his songs have their roots in Mellencampís own American experience,
which includes growing up in Indiana, where he still makes his home.
He kicked off with Pink Houses, a wry look at real American life.
There were many other familiar tunes, too, including Paper in Fire, Iím Not
Running Anymore, Lonely Olí Night, Check It Out, and Rain on the Scarecrow.
This latter tune is about losing the family farm, and bleak video images ran in
the background. The song itself has, appropriately enough given the subject, an
ominous shade to it.
Other songs included a new one, If I Die Sudden. A driving, dark rock number
that will be on his soon-to-be-released album, Life, Death, Love and Freedom.
It was a killer tune, keep an ear out for it.
This new album will be Mellencampís 25th, he told us, a fact that seemed to
His performance included an excellent set-within-a-set, featuring just him and
It began with him asking all those under 30 to raise their hands, then telling
those folks that he hoped they would do a better job of managing things than his
ďSo for those in America, we only have one more year of George Bush and then
weíre done with him,Ē he said, to an amazing volume of cheers considering a)
weíre not in America and b) this is conservative Alberta.
The acoustic set included Hey Jesus, Give Me a Ride Back Home, another powerful
song on the forthcoming album, Minutes to Memories and Small Town.
There was more, and it was all good.
Mellencampís chats with the crowd, his leaps and fist pumping and dance moves
were all entertaining.
It was a memorable, exciting performance.
Tom Cochrane opened the show, and though heís a lot more frequent a visitor to
Red Deer than Mellencamp, Iíve rarely seen the Centrium so full before the
opening act starts.
But it was like that on Thursday, and Iíll take that as a tribute to the
Canadian rockerís lasting popularity.
His one-hour show included Sinking Like a Sunset, Lunatic Fringe, White Hot, Big
League, and his signature hit, Life is a Highway.
Cochrane thanked Rascal Flats for making that tune his first country hit.
Cochrane did a number where it was just him and his guitar, Avenue A.
It was very effective.
Cochrane and Mellencamp made a good pairing for a bill ó enough alike to draw
the same crowd and different enough to deliver a different style of rock.
Read the Red Deer Advocate article online.