Calgary Sun: R.O.C.K Of Ages

By Gerry Krochak - Calgary Sun

Recent albums such as Life, Death, Love and Freedom and No Better Than This have cemented his legacy as a singer-songwriter and purveyor of roots, folk and Americana.

But he’ll still hit you with all the pop-rock hits from his peak in the ’80s and ’90s — and love it all just as much as his audience does.

Mellencamp’s Saddledome shows in semi-recent years were always enjoyable and his reputation as a formidable live act has been well-earned.

From a fan’s perspective, having the opportunity to see him in the intimate surroundings of the fabulous Southern Alberta Jubilee Auditorium made last night even more special — despite things such as power outages.

More on that later.

During the first of two shows at the Jube, and following an intro tape of Johnny Cash’s Cut You Down, the 60-year-old heartland rock icon had the crowd fully engaged early with a nifty mid-tempo interpretation of Authority Song from ’83s Uh-Huh album.

Many jumped to their feet singing or, at the very least, seat swaying.

Dressed in a black suit and white T-shirt, Mellencamp led his crack band through the two steppin’s trad-country of No One Cares About Me, which featured longtime guitarist Mike Wanchic shredding the frets of his hollow-body Gretsch.

A simple, yet effective production of hanging white bulbs and small-town main drag backdrop seemed perfect for the Indiana native and his tales of real life, real people and working-class heroes.

Following a swampy blues foray, his five-piece core band swelling to seven with the addition of violin and accordion, big cheers greeted past hits such as Check It Out, Jack And Diane and Jackie Brown.

Perhaps fearing the worst at the beginning of a two-minute power outage, he didn’t miss a beat and began telling campfire stories of his grandmother.

That’s a true pro!

This Must Be Heaven, a killer solo acoustic version of Small Town and the dark electrified interpretation of Rain On The Scarecrow quickly got the show back on track.

The main set had yet to conclude at press time, but on most shows this tour Mellencamp has been hauling out Crumblin’ Down, Pink Houses and R.O.C.K. In The U.S.A.

Opening the show was Canadian alt-folk, blues, rock and country veterans Cowboy Junkies.

It’s been 25 years since the landmark The Trinity Session was released and Margo Timmins’ voice remains smooth as silk.

Opening with Wrong Piano from the sprawling, four-album Nomad Series, the band quickly segued into the dark, brooding and thoroughly enjoyable A Common Disaster from its 1996 album, Lay It Down.

Late Night Radio and 3rd Crusade, a couple more new ones, set the table for the group’s picture-perfect cover of Lou Reed’s Sweet Jane, from the aforementioned The Trinity Session.

Perhaps not the snappiest of openers for someone of Mellencamp’s ilk, all these years later Cowboy Junkies remain an underrated Canadian treasure.