The Music Universe: John Mellencamp Rocks The Hits In Baltimore

The Music Universe By Matt Bailey 

John Mellencamp brought his old-school rock and roll to Baltimore Friday night (June 2nd) at Lyric Theater as his Live and In Person 2023 Tour continues through the end of June.

Cutting his iconic silhouette, hair and all, Mellencamp powered through six songs, starting with “John Cocker,” through “Minutes to Memories,” and encouraging audience engagement on “Check it Out.”

Mellencamp’s working-class lyrics and hearty compositions are made all the more believable because of his own personality. Wearing a mechanics jumper and liberal use of “Fuck” as he talks, there’s a conviction in every note that is endlessly authentic.

Mellencamp’s voice seems to be protected by the very thing that has created it: a lifelong smoker, the inherent gravel present as he growls out each word has seemingly not aged one bit. Perhaps he has the cigarettes to thank?

His is perhaps the tightest group of musicians in rock and roll. With three guitars on stage—including his own—and drummer Dane Clark, who beats every ounce of potential from a minimalist kit, the notes were record-perfect. The differentiating factor is violinist Lisa Germano, whose fiery fiddling soars with twang above the men and their six strings.

In the middle of the set, the band disappeared and Mellencamp told heartfelt stories of inspiration about two of his songs, “The Eyes of Portland” and “Longest Days,” before obliging them with his guitar. He then launched into an acoustic version of “Jack and Diane,” which the singing audience virtually ran away with, coming in a few stanzas too soon on the iconic chorus.

The tour is sponsored by Turner Classic Movies, with a stage set inspired by A Streetcar Named Desire and a too-long half-hour clip package of vintage films serving as the de facto opener. The crowd was itching for Mellencamp about ten minutes into the retrospective. However, it redeemed itself with a cool transition from clips of Streetcar into the show itself.

Oh, and there are dummies. Life-sized mannequins on stage meant to represent golden-age film characters. They’re never addressed. But…yeah…be prepared for that.

Missing from the set were my personal favorites “R.O.C.K. In The U.S.A.” and “Your Life is Now.” Not to mention, having interviewed drumming legend Kenny Aronoff who created the memorable fills for “Jack and Diane,” I would have loved a full-band rendition of that hit. But he closed with the 1-2-3 punch of “ Pink Houses,” “Cherry Bomb,” and “Hurts So Good,” leaving the crowd on a high note and ears ringing from the rock emanating from the stage.

The performance showcased John Mellencamp in fine form, delivering his classic hits with a vigor that, at 71, shows no sign of diminishing any time soon.