Oregon Music News: John Mellencamp At The Keller Auditorium

Oregon Music News by Brent Angelo 

John Mellencamp is one of rock’s most respected musicians. His 1982 album, American Fool, first put him on the map with songs like “Hurts So Good” and “Jack and Diane”. It was his 1985 release, Scarecrow, that really solidified him as someone truly special in the music world. Scarecrow has been hailed as one of the best albums ever made. The album’s overall message of the failing American Dream to corporate greed was heard by so many especially those struggling in America’s heartland. John Mellencamp would then use his musical fame for good and he helped become a founder in the Farm Aid cause to help our counties farming community. He was and still is a man of the people and for the people.

I first saw John Mellencamp live in 1992. He was on tour supporting the album, 1991’s Whenever We Wanted. At that time, John was still riding high from his 80s music successes while the music scene was going through a major change. 80s rock was falling to the rise of 90s Grunge bands like Nirvana and Peal Jam. John Mellencamp was one of those musicians, who were unaffected by that change. He stayed true to himself as an artist, continued making music that he wanted and was simply a force in concert. Guitars were big live; drum sound was massive, and that distinctive singing voice was something special to hear in concert.

John Mellencamp is currently on tour and just made a tour stop here in Portland at the Keller Auditorium. He is supporting his most recent release, Strictly a One-Eyed Jack. The album is his twenty fourth in his staggering almost fifty-year career in music. With that, Scarecrow also recently saw a super deluxe edition released that included unreleased songs, B-sides and writer demos.

John Mellencamp may be older, but he still sounds as strong as ever. His singing voice still shines live. The live show started with “John Cockers” from his 2008’s Life, Death, Love and Freedom. This reserved sit down show is different from my first 1992 GA show, but even as we are all getting older these songs are too good to keep us remain seated. “Check it Out” got longtime fans out of their seats and singing along.

“The Eyes of Portland” came next and is currently an unreleased song. Portland would get a solo acoustic version of this unreleased song and the song would become one of the night’s most powerful. John told the crowd a story from an experience he had here last time he was here in Portland on tour. He told a story of a homeless woman he encountered here in our homeless community. The tragic story also showed John’s compassion to help. John offered to buy her a bus ticket home so she could be back with family, but the woman said she was no longer welcome there. He then offered her money to help which she thought from that she would have to give sex for. It was a heartbreaking story, showed the tragedies within our Portland community and showed John’s continued concern for others in need. He wrote this song for her. 

During that solo acoustic segment, the once big guitars were silenced, and we were treated to a special version of “Jack and Diane”. Its these kinds of stripped-down moments that show the power of great song writing. There was times John didn’t even have to sing as the crowd took over on verses and choruses for him. A song like “Jack and Diane” has connected to so many people over the years and has become part of our very pop culture DNA.

By the time John got to “Scarecrow” in the set, fans no longer could stay seated. That GA vibe was back for “Lonely Ol’ Night”, “Crumblin’ Down”, “Pink Houses” and the finale of “Hurts So Good” showing these songs are too good to be sitting down for.

John Mellencamp is an American treasure and remains one of America’s favorite sons. He has written some of rock n roll’s most beloved rock songs and throughout his career used his successes to help as a humanitarian. He is still vocal, takes no crap, remains real, honest and continues to deliver as a live performer.

John Mellencamp Setlist

Portland, Oregon

Keller Auditorium 3/11/23

John Cockers
Paper In Fire 
Minutes to Memories
Small Town
Hey God
Human Wheels
Don’t Need This Body
Jackie Brown
Check It Out
The Eyes of Portland
Longest Days
Jack and Diane
I Always Lie To Strangers
Joann Woodward – The Real Life (actress and widow of Paul Newman spoken word lyrics from “The Real Life” from The Lonesome Jubilee with accordion and violin section)
Lonely Ol’ Night
Crumblin’ Down (with Gloria by Them)
Pink Houses
Band Intros
Chasing Rainbows
Cherry Bomb
Hurts So Good