Green Bay Press Gazette:John Mellencamp And His Band Were In Fine Form For A Night Of Rousing Music From the Heartland At Weidner

Green Bay Press Gazette by Kendra Meinert  

John Mellencamp and The Weidner go together like Jack and Diane.

It’s a hardly a secret the self-described “curmudgeon” likes what he likes — without apology — so it seems the 2,000-seat hall with its cozy aesthetics and pristine acoustics passes muster with Mellencamp.

Monday’s stop for his Live and In Person Tour was his fourth time at The Weidner. Where better to hole up for two hours on a rainy March night to be nourished by every nuanced ache of sadness in “Jackie Brown,” the fire of a band fully engulfed on “Crumblin’ Down” and the undeniable joy of hearing a room full of strangers sing “Pink Houses” together?

At 72, the plainspoken Mellencamp is such a natural fit for the more intimate settings of theaters and performance halls it’s almost hard to remember his arena-rocking days at the Resch Center in the early 2000s. Foregoing the big-crowd energy of anthems like “R.O.C.K. in the USA” or “Authority Song” for an acoustic “Longest Days,” with Mellencamp like some old-timer on a front porch imparting his late grandmother's wisdom that “life is short even in its longest days” is a fair trade-off.

It was the Rock and Roll Hall of Famer’s first visit to Green Bay in five years, and it was the same ol’ Mellencamp. That’s a compliment not a dis for an artist who never seems to miss.

Wearing coveralls with the collar flipped up, the hair still cuts the kind of profile in the stage lights that can give him away before he ever sings a word. He took his first drag on a cigarette before he had finished “John Cockers” to open the night. There was gum chewing, of course, and the guitar slung across his back.

The show opened with 20 minutes of scenes from classic films of the 1940s to 1960s that have been meaningful to Mellencamp, including “The Fugitive Kind,” “The Grapes of Wrath,” “A Streetcar Named Desire” and “Hud.” It felt a little like sitting through previews at the movie theater to get what you came for, but again, it's Mellencamp. He does things his own way. You either love him or it or you don't.

When it came time for the music, he and his amazing six-piece band, which includes guitarist Mike Wanchic, who has been by his side for more than 50 years, played 19 songs in an hour and 40 minutes. It was mostly a greatest-hits showcase curated from a career of 28 singles on the Billboard Hot 100, but he also made room for “The Eyes of Portland,” a song about homelessness off last year’s “Orpheus Descending” album that he performed solo acoustic. As much as Mellencamp's music whisks listeners away to the songs of their youth, he's also going to make sure they know what's on his mind in current times.

His voice is still potent, and the gravelly, gritty quality that comes with age (and maybe cigarettes) gives it that kind of lived-in quality that lent itself so well to John Prine in his later years. “What If I Came Knocking” and “Crumblin’ Down” proved there’s still a fire in that Hoosier belly — and that he still has some stage moves, too.

During an introduction for “The Real Life,” which featured spoken word by Joanne Woodward, violinist Lisa Germano, whose talent shown brilliantly all night, told the crowd Mellencamp wanted the evening to be more of a performance than a rock concert. It was both.

Nearly 40 years after it was released, “Rain on the Scarecrow,” written about the plight of small American farms, still rolls across the stage like an ominous storm cloud. Mellencamp was at the edge of the stage pointing out at the crowd for an invigorating “Paper in Fire” as his band played fast and furious behind him.

It was heartland favorites like “Small Town” and “Pink Houses” that made the crowd jump to its feet, while the lighter touch of an arrangement of “Jack & Diane” for a four piece with two acoustic guitars, accordion and violin made that little ditty about two American kids doin' the best they can feel melancholy.

Unlike some of his previous Weidner visits when he shared stories between songs, he did little of that this time. Near night's end, he did get a bit nostalgic as he talked about growing older, the passage of time and memories.

"You know the thing about old times, you’ve got to be old to have them," Mellencamp said. " ... I thought it would be appropriate to end the show tonight with a song about old times."

And just like that the audience was back at the club Cherry Bomb, back when groovin' was groovin'.

Kendra Meinert is an entertainment and feature writer at the Green Bay Press-Gazette. Contact her at 920-431-8347 or [email protected]. Follow her on X @KendraMeinert.

The set list

“John Cockers”

“Paper in Fire”

“Minutes to Memories”

“Small Town”

“Human Wheels”

“Jackie Brown”

“Troubled Land”

“Check It Out”

“The Eyes of Portland”

“Longest Days”

“Jack & Diane”

“The Real Life”

“Rain on the Scarecrow”

“Lonely Ol’ Night”

“What If I Came Knocking”

“Crumblin’ Down”

“Pink Houses”

“Cherry Bomb”

“Hurts So Good”