Calgary Herald: Classic Mellencamp Rocks The 'Dome

Eric Volmers, Calgary Herald
Published: Saturday, February 16, 2008
John Mellencamp played the Pengrowth Saddledome Friday night

Attendance: 10,500

- It's hard to know if U.S. stadium rocker John Mellencamp was trying to make a point Friday night at the Saddledome when he opened an engaging set with Pink Houses, his American dream-deflating hit that is often misunderstood as a flag-waving anthem.

As three giant screens flashed scenes from similarly themed iconic films The Last Picture Show and Easy Rider, Mellencamp's opening shot seemed like it might have been a thoughtful statement from one of rock's more thoughtful patriots.

On the other hand, three songs later, Mellencamp the showman was pulling a loose-limbed lug up on stage to dance for the crowd.

"You hadda see him, he was too good," Mellencamp told his appreciative audience.

There have always been two sides to Mellencamp, a 50-something grandfather who is still capable of filling stadiums even if his new work has a tendency to fly under the radar.

While his songs can be sobering vignettes about failure and despair in the land of plenty, he plays them with such enthusiasm that crowds are easily won over.

There were plenty of reasons for fans to celebrate on Friday night, not the least of which was Mellencamp's reliance on the portion of his songbook that still gets heavy FM radio rotation.

By the time the songwriter started playing acoustic samples of his more challenging material Friday night, he had already fed the hit-hungry crowd with Pink Houses, Paper in Fire, Check it Out and Lonely Ol' Night.

In fact, while he trotted out a few of his lesser-known songs -- like the underrated Minutes to Memories -- Mellencamp offered enough of his hits to make the audience happily tolerate the few unknown numbers from his yet-to-be-released album.

Backed by a band that could expertly negotiate both the Rolling Stone flavoured rockers and violin-heavy roots numbers, Mellencamp eventually became friendly and chatty, telling profanity-filled stories and even firing a few shots at George W. Bush.

Newer songs, like a soaring rocker with a stirring anti-racism message, showed that the songwriter is still an artist, not merely a jukebox.

It was as much of a highlight Friday as his acoustic retelling of the hit Small Town, a fiery version of Rain on the Scarecrow and an energetic run through Human Wheels.

But by the time Mellencamp rolled out the pre-encore crowd-favourites Crumblin' Down, Jack and Diane and the silly but engaging R.O.C.K. in the U.S.A., it was clear the audience was there to sing along to hits.

Opening act Tom Cochrane was also keen to take the audience down memory lane.

Clearly delighted to be playing a stadium again, the songwriter treated himself to a melodramatic, drawn-out intro and rock-star entrance as Mellencamp's fans continued to file into the Dome.

Once on stage, the Canadian veteran proved himself an expert at firing up the crowd the old-fashioned way, with lots of fist-pumping, nostalgic FM-radio staples, storytelling and more Calgary boosting than the chamber of commerce.

Life is a Highway, White Hot, Sinking like a Sunset and Big Leagues were familiar enough to the classic-rock contingent of Mellencamp's fans to generate excitement and Cochrane responded with an earnestly bombastic set.

All in all, his greatest hits revue served as a suitably sweaty opener for what would become an evening of nostalgia.
Read the Calgary Herald article online.