LA Weekly By Brett Callwood
Mellencamp Brings Golden Age to Life in Hollywood: Going to a rock & roll concert at the Dolby Theatre in Hollywood was a new one on us. The venue is normally associated with theatrical performances — musicals, plays and comedy. As it happens, it was the perfect room to watch this latest John Mellencamp show.
The theme appeared to be the Golden Age of moviemaking in Hollywood (appropriately enough), and how that relates to telling the stories of outsiders (of which he considers himself one). The stage was dressed like a movie set, with statues of (we think) Marlon Brando and other assorted stars of that era dotted around. It really was beautiful.
In addition, rather than an opening act we were treated to a 30-minute video, narrated by Mellencamp, with clips from classics such as The Misfits, The Grapes of Wrath, and A Streetcar Named Desire. Mellencamp takes us through what he loves about them, how he relates to them, what makes them so very special to him, and how they influenced his own art. It was a very sweet and personal touch and most people in attendance got it. Of course, there’s always going to be a couple of belligerent assholes in a crowd this size, and cries of “this is bullshit” sounded loud when everyone else was respectfully quiet during the film. You can’t teach class!
On to the show. Mellencamp strode out looking for all the world like a Brando or a Paul Newman or a James Dean — a Misfit who managed to find his place in the world through his music. There was a gunslinger vibe to his gait, which must be by design. It certainly worked.
The setlist hasn’t changed much if at all on this tour. It’s interesting that he’s playing three songs from 2008’s Life, Death, Love and Freedom album and a couple from last year’s Strictly a One-Eyed Jack, but nothing from the three albums in-between. The opener, “John Cockers,” is from the former, as is his ode to getting old, “Don’t Need This Body.” 15 years have passed since Mellencamp first expressed the sentiment “This getting older ain’t for cowards” and things certainly don’t get easier.
There’s been a change in Mellencamp in that time, from Springsteen/Seger-esque blue collar hero to a boozy troubadour in the Tom Waits vein, and that’s to his immense benefit. The violinist on stage only enhances that vibe. He’s always been authentic, grounded and painfully honest. His desire to journal his vintage years only adds to his glory.
We got four songs from Scarecrow,” including the perfect “Small Town.” “Pink Houses” was the chosen song from “Uh-Huh” (no “Authority Song”). And of course, we got both “Jack & Diane” (performed acoustically with backing vocals from his grandkids) and “Hurts So Good” from American Fool.
It was, frankly, a beautiful evening.