Edmonton Journal: Roots Rocker’s Anti-Political Note Resonates

Edmonton Journal  By Sandra Sperounces

Roots rocker’s anti-political note resonates

EDMONTON — Three minutes after John Mellencamp was scheduled to step onstage, a man in a red jacket stood up in the middle of the Jubilee Auditorium and whistled. “Let’s rock ‘n’ roll!” he yelled, prompting cheers from Saturday night’s sold-out crowd.

While Michael Ignatieff and the Liberals were rousing the troops in central Edmonton, roots-rocker Mellencamp was hosting his own political rally across the river — protesting against politicians (Authority Song), crumbling social welfare policies (No One Cares About Me), and isolationism (John Cockers). “I know many, many people, but I ain’t got no friends,” the 59-year-old wailed like an old Mississippi bluesman.

While the guy in the red jacket didn’t quite get his rock ‘n’ roll, the Indiana native delivered so much more during his fiery two-hour set, also starring violinist Miriam Sturm and stand-up bassist John Gunnell.

With his croaky voice, shaped by years of smoking, Mellencamp is now styling himself as a cross between Tom Waits and Johnny Cash, playing loping country waltzes and soulful, noir-ish blues ditties about loneliness and death. (In fact, Cash’s rendition of God’s Gonna Cut You Down is Mellencamp’s entrance song.)

His voice, however, sounded even croakier than usual, thanks to some mystery illness. “I almost cancelled the show tonight because I’m sick, but (I thought) I can’t come and not play for these people,” he revealed during an unscripted pause in the proceedings.

(One of his guitars was acting up, and his roadie needed a few minutes to fix the technical glitch. “It’s his first day on the job,” Mellencamp quipped.)

To add to his woes, one of his best friends died Friday night, and the musician flew back to Indiana for “a thing” on Saturday. “It’s awful when your friends start dying.”

With his guitar in order, he then dedicated the next song, Save Some Time To Dream, to his late friend. “Save some time for your family and yourself,” he said at the end of the acoustic tune, one of 13 on his latest album, No Better Than This, produced by T Bone Burnett.

While the first half of his set was dominated by his new songs, Mellencamp was the ultimate politician and let his constituents hear what they came for — classics such as Cherry Bomb, a swinging version of Jack & Diane, Small Town and Pink Houses.

Tickets are still available for Mellencamp’s Sunday concert.

There’s no opening act on the former Cougar’s current tour, by the way — at least not the usual kind. (Then again, didn’t he used to tour with a juggler back in the late ’80s and early ’90s?)

Instead, the show starts by screening a film, It’s About You, which documents the making of No Better Than This and Mellencamp’s recent tour with Willie Nelson and Bob Dylan.