Photos and Review By Max Stewart
John Mellencamp‘s music has always pulled at the heartstrings of America, with lyrics that evoke the many range of emotions that encapsulate the life of the middle class: joy, heartbreak, despair, love, and all things in between. Many of his songs have an upbeat sense of optimism while reflecting on the past, which I think is why his catalog resonates with so many people.
I attended the sold out February show at Atlanta’s Fox Theatre alongside my mom, who will turn 70 this year and asked if we could go to this show as a Christmas present. What made the night even more memorable is my wife and I let my parents know hours before the concert that we are expecting a baby girl in August. Seeing my mom light up with this news and then be able to see one of her favorites musicians will be something I will never forget. As we walked into the ornate theatre (which opened in 1929), she recalled going there to see movies with her dad as a child, including Around The World In 80 Days, and I remembered going to plays with my mom in the theatre in my younger years.
It made perfect sense that the night began with some vintage movie clips (including A Streetcar Named Desire and On The Waterfront), which set the scene for the Americana feel of the evening. There were even mannequins of Hollywood heroes like Marlon Brando and Marilyn Monroe on the stage. The retro aesthetic worked perfectly in the picturesque environment. Sure, the average age of the audience skewed on the Baby Boomer side, but there were mounds of families and Millennial couples taking advantage of seeing one of America’s great songwriters.
When Mellencamp took the stage for the opener “John Cockers”, the crowd was primed and ready to sing loud on a Friday night in Georgia. The night’s set was a good variety of his extensive discography and featured a heavy dose of tunes from 1985’s Scarecrow (“Minutes to Memories” was one of the highlights) and 1987’s The Lonesome Jubilee. When he sang the emotive “We Are The People,” it really rang true given the sad state of affairs in so many cities today: “If you are one of the homeless, May my thoughts be with you, If you are scared and alone, You know, our thoughts are with you.” There were also some fantastic renditions of songs from his strong latest release, Strictly a One-Eyed Jack (“Chasing Rainbows” and “I Always Lie to Strangers”). There was also a cool moment when there was a Hollywood’s late Joanne Woodward had a spoken word part that played during “The Real Life,” with keyboardist/accordionist Troye Kinnett and violinist Lisa Germano performed over it.
The intimacy of the acoustic portion of the set was highlighted by the full crowd signing “Jack & Diane,” with Mellencamp interjecting when the crowd was overly eager to get to the chorus before he sang the second verse: “Do you know how long it took for me to write that second verse!?” Singing the lyrics alongside my mom made me thankful for all that we have and all that is to come. It is amazing how a song can bring that emotion out of you in a live setting.
The band really hit their stride with “Crumblin’ Down,” which included an interlude of “Gloria” in the middle section. Mellencamp then went into the timeless “Pink Houses,” with the entire theatre crowd on its feet.
Throughout the night, my mom would be singing at the top of her lungs then declare “I am already in love with your baby girl!” It was a surreal feeling being able to see one of the legends of heartland rock as I look ahead to having my first child. Maybe one day I will take her to see a show at the Fox Theatre and we can sing and dance together.
Mellencamp making memories across a generations, ain’t that America?