Timesunion.com Review: Mellencamp Shines In Showcase Of '80s Hits

Timesunion.com By Casey Seiler 

One of the coolest left-field elements of John Mellencamp's concert Thursday night at Proctors was the absence of an opening act. Instead, the audience got roughly 20 minutes of scenes from classic films — not a fast-moving montage, mind you, but whole scenes: Marlon Brando begging an unseen judge to set him free in "The Fugitive Kind"; Marilyn Monroe and Clark Gable romancing in "The Misfits"; Mellencamp's fellow Hoosier James Dean flirting with Elizabeth Taylor in "Giant." By the time we got to a father-son confrontation from "Hud" (“Little by little, the look of the land changes by the men we admire,” the aging rancher tells his no-good offspring), you could tell a significant chunk of the audience was getting imptient, even ticked off. It was great.

When the curtain came up revealing Mellencamp and his crack six-piece band framed against a set from "A Streetcar Named Desire," it was pretty clear what all this American iconography was about: The other musicians were wearing suits that made them look like the cool killers in a bank heist noir; the star of the show was in a mechanic's jumpsuit, looking like the guy in the movie who falls in love with the femme fatale and ends up betrayed — the misfit.

But while the first song was the 2008 stomper "John Cockers," with its growled chorus "I ain't got no friends," the two-hour show that followed was stacked with hits from Mellencamp's popular peak in the 1980s, well-paced and served up with brio. Mellencamp has been so dependable for so long that it's easy to overlook the high-quality carpentry of his songwriting on tunes like "Paper in Fire," "Small Town," "Lonely Ol' Night" (a title inspired by "Hud," not that you asked) and "Check It Out" — the last a showcase for Lisa Germano's gorgeous violin.

The harder rockers included "Rain on the Scarecrow," a grim economic protest that has lost none of its power after four decades, and "What If I Came Knocking." "Jack and Diane" turned into a singalong that prompted a gentle scolding from Mellencamp after the audience rushed to the chorus in place of the second verse. 

The only genuine misfire was Mellencamp's solo delivery of the more recent song "The Eyes of Portland," which was preceded by a long anecdote about the singer being generous to a bedraggled young homeless woman. It wasn't subtle.

The last set of songs rewarded the enthusiasm of the packed house, which rose to their feet throughout the show. "Crumblin' Down" was mixed in with "Gloria," followed by "Pink Houses," "Cherry Bomb" and a final "Hurts So Good," the 1982 tune that was one of Mellencamp's first big hits.

At 72, the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inductee isn't leaping off amplifiers these days, but he commanded the stage with ease, working a plug of what I highly suspect was nicotine-replacement gum throughout. The object of that much affection from the crowd — a woman three rows behind me kept screaming at odd moments — might have a hard time making a case for himself as a genuine misfit.

But in the songs? You bet.