Pleased to meet you. Again. And in a whole new light.
Thursday night at the Jubilee Auditorium was a night of reintroductions in many ways, an evening when familiar faces, voices and sounds gave the audience an opportunity to connect with them once more and, more importantly, in a way that maybe they’d never known them before, or forgotten if they once had.
John Mellencamp, a man synonymous with American heartland rock, someone who has spent the better part of 35 years building a career that, despite its down-home sound and sentiments, always seemed to aspire to bigness. Tours, including through town over the past several years, were Dome-sized and lost a great deal, not only in the translation of the material, but in the singer’s personality, which seemed far from the Everyman he wanted to convey, as he took extended smoke breaks and put forth less than an honest effort.
On this tour, though, taking its cue from his stellar 2010 release No Better Than This, the show was small, intimate, stripped-down and spectacularly genuine, that was stark contrast to those other shows and even the rather self-aggrandizing voice-over as he took the stage, which did all but crown him the king of the popes.
That, though, was short-lived as the 60-year-old immediately launched into a scaled-back still rocking version of The Authority Song, which lost none of its brashness and outlaw nature, in fact, probably gaining more thanks to the Cash-lite-like presence Mellencamp had.
From there, he and variations of the six-piece he had backing him up plowed through new and old, from the lonesome No One Cares About Me from that last release, to a soul-searing, skeletal-rattling version of the Delta blues burner Death Letter and a swinging takes on fan faves Paper In Fire and Pink Houses.
The band was tight and incredible, and Mellencamp seemed to mean every guitar note and vocal sung, sounding great and seemingly freed by not having to inhabit an entire arena, at home on a Jube stage that was part barn, part roadhouse.
And that was nailed home even further when he went acoustic and solo, pulling things all the way back for quietly anthemic versions of his classic Jack and Diane and Jackie Brown.
Funny, then, that it was during this moment, when Mellencamp was at his most quiet and personal, giving a lengthy lead-in to Longest Days, with an amusing anecdote about his late grandmother and her forcing him into prayer at her bedside, that the power in the entire room should completely blow.
Here he showed that big-time showmanship, making light of it when the electricity came on several minutes later, noting that having told the story hundreds of times that this was the first occasion that had happened.
“Now I know where grandma is,” he cracked, saying she obviously didn’t want him to finish the story.
“This must be heaven,” he added to obvious applause.
It really did say a great deal about Mellencamp, as did the rest of the memorable night. It was nice to meet him. Again. And in a way that made him that much better.
With that simple, wonderfully perfunctory word Margo Timmins and her veteran Canadian crew Cowboy Junkies took the stage for a far-too-short opening set to start the evening.
It was a brief introduction, perhaps a cheeky one, before she and her bandmates — brothers Michael and Peter, Alan Anton, and an added touring instrumentalist — properly shook the hands of the Jubilee crowd and let them know who they are and have been for almost a quarter century.
For those who’d forgotten or lost touch over the years or simply hadn’t been paying attention, it was a remarkable catch-up session that spanned the years, showcased their deep catalogue, beginning with a remarkable, barely restrained, still blistering version of Vic Chesnutt’s Wrong Piano featured on their recent tribute album Demons.
That disc, merely one of four released by the quartet over the past 18 months as part of their Nomad Series, is a pretty adamant statement that this many years in the Junkies have maintained an artistic bar higher than most, and their set Thursday night only underscored that, as they jumped through their musical timeline, giving all of the material an energy that belied their subdued onstage demeanour.
In fact, while several of them sat, their performances reached heights that were awe-inspiring — Timmins still owns one of rock music’s most alluring, most emotive voices which she let soar through the Jube — their dark, brooding gorgeous blues rock meshing beautifully, sounding more dynamic than most would remember or one could hope.
From 1996’s A Common Disaster to ’90’s ’Cause Cheap Is How I Feel and, finally, their most well-known tracks Sweet Jane and Misguided Angel from their star-making, ’88 sophomore effort Trinity Session, the Junkies made sure that the impression they left — be it first, second or however many — was one that would last.