Erie Reader: Concert Review: John Mellencamp Live at the Warner Theatre By Larry Wheaton Photos by David Design 

Downtown Erie was packed on Saturday, Mar. 16, bars were hopping on St. Patrick's Day weekend and with the community parade earlier that day, many revelers were still wandering the streets. That evening the Erie Otters were playing a home game and legendary singer/songwriter John Mellencamp packed the Warner Theatre – making it one of the busiest evenings in the city since summertime. 

There was nary an empty seat when John Mellencamp's show began – with a montage of black and white movie clips that included scenes from old movies like Giant (1956), Misfits (1961), and Hud (1963). This montage was confusing in its connection to Mellencamp, and running at a length of 23 minutes, some attendees were impatiently jeering, shouting, "We want John!"

Once the film reel ended, the curtain rose to reveal Mellencamp and his band, along with a stage set-up featuring several mannequins dressed as famous actors from the golden era of cinema (ie. James Dean and Marilyn Monroe) along with vintage studio lights and a backdrop in black and white which resembled a streetscape of vintage Hollywood, giving context to the opening clips.

The show opened with the song "John Cockers'' from Mellencamp's 2008 album Life, Death, Love, and Freedom, and the crowd singing along. Mellencamp grinned and the tension of the crowd fell away into a groove. Material then shifted to the 1980s with songs "Paper In Fire" and "Minutes To Midnight," followed by a performance of his first major hit of the evening "Small Town." This brought most of the crowd to their feet, swaying and singing along to the song. Mellencamp then followed up with an early 2000s song "Human Wheels" and the 1988 fan  favorite "Jackie Brown." He got the crowd clapping along by playing "Check It Out," after which the crowd took a seat and Mellencamp's band exited, leaving the heartland rocker on stage solo with an acoustic guitar. 


Melllencamp began his solo songs "story-teller" style by sharing his experience with a young homeless girl in Portland, Oregon and how his interaction helped inspire the song. After an unruly audience member forced Mellencamp to address him (which received a roaring response from the crowd), he proceeded to perform "The Eyes of Portland," which was, surprisingly, the only song he played from his most recent album, Orpheus Descending. 

For his next song, he told a story of a conversation with his 99 year old grandmother and the advice she gave him: if he didn't stop smoking cigarettes and cursing that he wouldn't get into heaven. She advised and inspired Mellencamp by saying, "Life is short, even in its longest days," which led into the next song, "Longest Days." The final solo song was the hit "Jack and Diane," during which Mellencamp stopped singing the verses, as the crowd jumped to their feet, singing every line. He accompanied the crowd in the chorus, but left the majority of the singing to his fans, who were happy to oblige. 

Mellencamp then told a story of a golden era Hollywood actress and wife to Paul Newman, Joanne Woodward, and how they became close friends. She recorded audio of Mellencamp's lyrics and those recordings were shared with the crowd while violinist Lisa Germano and accordion player Troye Kinnett played an instrumental interlude – the sound was amazing and audience members were wowed, as this audio has never been publicly released. 

Mellencamp's band began returning to the stage while he played "The Real Life," beginning with accompaniment from simply a guitarist and accordion player, and ending with the full band. 

The rest of the show regained a fast pace with hit songs "Rain On the Scarecrow," Lonely Ol' Night," "What If I Come Knocking," and "Crumblin' Down," which featured an interlude  featuring the Van Morrison (THEM) song "Gloria." During this rendition Mellencamp gave each of his musicians a solo, before going back into "Crumblin' Down." 

Afterwards he introduced each member of the band and talked about their history in the music business, before launching into "Pink Houses." The crowd was back on their feet.

The band then left the stage briefly, only to return playing the hit "Cherry Bomb," making Mellencamp's 1987 album The Lonesome Jubilee the main feature in this live performance. Following up with "Hurts So Good," had the crowd singing along as Mellencamp brought one lucky fan from the front row onto the stage for a chorus, passing him the microphone while Mellencamp walked to each side of the stage hyping up the crowd. 

Returning to the mic to close out the final bars of "Hurts So Good," Mellencamp left the crowd energized with that memorable earworm in their heads.