Bend, OR The Source Weekly: Hurt So Good: Mellencamp and Dylan Share An Epic Double Bill This Weekend
08.25.2010 - TSWeekly
Whether it’s by design or just a happy accident, the Les Schwab Amphitheater
(LSA) concert series has managed to attract some of America’s foremost
songwriters and storytellers over the past few years, a line-up that includes
Willie Nelson and Merle Haggard on the country side and Beck and Bob Dylan on
the pop and folk side with plenty of good natured (classic) rocking in between –
think Lynyrd Skynyrd and Steve Miller.
This weekend Dylan, who long ago solidified his position as the dean of American
songwriters, returns to LSA for a Friday night double billing with another
American singer songwriter icon, the perennially underrated John Mellencamp.
Each of the artists will play a full set, with Mellencamp starting off the
evening and Dylan closing the show. The 69-year-old songwriter, who wears his
age about as well as Keith Richards, will play a set that reads a lot like his
greatest hits album with a few newer numbers thrown in for the sake of artistic
integrity. Those who have seen Dylan perform know what to expect. By and large,
you’ll get a dose of classics such as “Like a Rolling Stone” and “Rainy Day
Women” delivered with a few improvisations and reinterpretations mixed in. While
Dylan’s voice, which was never more than a thin rattle at its best, has long
since deteriorated into an approximation of audible utterances, it doesn’t
really matter since you already know the verses and choruses by heart. If
Dylan’s own performance leaves a little to be desired on most nights, the same
cannot be said of his always excellent band that keeps the show moving along and
the notes crisp. Early reviews of the co-headline tour indicate that Dylan is
putting forth some strong performances in the twilight of his performing career.
While Dylan carries that Bucket List aura that comes with a distinction of
having recorded some of history’s most well-known songs, it’s Mellencamp who
comes into the show with the bigger contemporary buzz. Now in his fourth decade
of recording, Mellencamp has amassed a body of work that is box-set worthy by
almost any measure. (He has more than 20 Billboard Top 40 hits.) A roots rocker
long before the term existed, Mellencamp is the unparalleled chronicler of life
in the rural heartland. His latest effort, though, takes an entirely different
approach to his brand of Americana.
Going with a less-is-more approach, Mellencamp teamed up with renowned producer
T Bone Burnett on his latest release No Better Than This, which was released on
the roots-oriented Rounder Recorders (other Rounder artists include Son Volt, JJ
Cale and Bruce Cockburn). The album marks the second Burnett-Mellencamp
collaboration and like the earlier release, Life Death Love and Freedom, has
been largely embraced by critics. (Rolling Stone gave the album 3.5 stars).
The album eschews all the trappings of a major studio recording with a serious
back-to-basics ethos. For starters, the entire album was recorded in mono, using
a single microphone and live takes for every track. It’s an approach that while
somewhat contrived, produces a sound that Mellencamp refers to as more “organic”
than some of the studio sleight of hand that transforms awkward teens like
Taylor Swift and Justin Bieber into pop-singing sensations.
Like many great albums of earlier eras, the entire record was written and
recorded on the road. Mellencamp penned the entire album in less than two weeks
this past spring, waking in the mornings to write when he could be “intensely
Rather than bring the tracks into a studio where they could be polished and
refined with a production team and his band, Mellencamp put down the songs while
he was on the road with Dylan and the aforementioned Willie Nelson. The majority
of the album was recorded at the legendary Sun Studios in Memphis where Sam
Phillips helped Elvis and Carl Perkins cut their earliest hits. Additional
tracks were added in Savannah, Ga., where Mellencamp took the band to one of the
oldest black Baptist churches in the South. Mellencamp rounded out the recording
sessions in San Antonio, Tex., where he cut a track in room 414 of the Gunter
Hotel, the same room where the legendary bluesman Robert Johnson once recorded.
Staying true to his back-to-basics philosophy for the album, Mellencamp put down
all the tracks on a 55-year-old Ampex mobile reel-to-reel recorder and then
handed the tapes to Burnett for mastering. While a solid bookend to Mellencamp’s
lengthy catalog, the album as a whole isn’t something that fans will be
clamoring to hear from start to finish in concert. Thankfully, that’s something
that Mellencamp realizes and will play his set largely grounded in his hard
driving rock hits like “Hurt So Good” and early Americana like “Jack and Diane”
and “Pink Houses” punctuated with more pensive moments like “Save Some Time To
Dream” from the new album.
If you’re coming for Dylan and view Mellencamp as an ‘80s pop throwaway or a
classic rock hanger-on, you might be in for a pleasant surprise on Friday night.
Bob Dylan and John Mellencamp
Les Schwab Amphitheater
Friday, Aug. 27