Glide Magazine: John Mellencamp Brings The Heartland To Rollicking NYC Set At The Beacon

Glide Magazine
During a quiet moment in the middle of his set at the Beacon Theatre on February 25th, John Mellencamp recounted the tale of visiting his grandmother, who was bedridden and nearing the end of her life. After making a “smart-alecky” comment about “more sinning” that he had to do on this earth, the two looked at each other. Mellencamp recalled that her visage suddenly appeared much younger, and she remarked that “life is short, even in its longest days.”

With an acoustic guitar slung over his shoulder, Mellencamp launched into one of the most resonant moments of the show with a wistful take on “Longest Days.” The Indiana rocker then followed up with an acoustic rendition of his massive hit “Jack & Diane.” The sold-out crowd jumped from their seats, belting out the chorus in a massive singalong that roared through all three levels of the Beacon Theatre. This two-song sequence showcased Mellencamp’s still-considerable vocal range, from hushed ballads to raucous crowd-pleasers.

Aptly named “The John Mellencamp Show,” the show kicked off with a mini-documentary about Mellencamp’s career, including his highs and lows. And the gig traversed most of Mellencamp’s career, sonically and lyrically.

There were rollicking, bluesy rockers like the opening track “Lawless Times”, “Rain on the Scarecrow” and “Stones in My Passway,” complete with its skittering guitar riff. There were folksy, country hits like “Small Town” and “Paper in Fire.” And of course, there were good old-fashioned rock ‘n’ roll jams like “Authority Song” and “Minutes to Memories.”

The spirit of socially conscious, heartland rock also pulsed throughout the set, with the vocal harmonies of his backing band powering up “Lawless Times” and “We Are the People.” When his 2017 single “Easy Target” came up, Mellencamp brought his political message to the present, calling for equal pay for women, a living wage and a community of respect. “When the walls come tumblin’ down” (on “Crumblin’ Down”) felt like another incisive comment on the current political climate, even over three decades after the single’s release.

Just because the tour was titled “The John Mellencamp Show” didn’t mean the frontman wouldn’t shine a spotlight on his backing band, though. Violinist Miriam Sturm was a dynamic presence throughout the set, leading the spirited instrumental interlude “Overture” (along with Troye Kinnett on accordion) and adding a somber timbre to “Easy Target.” Drummer Dane Clark unleashed a rocking solo on “Crumblin’ Down.” Mellencamp even recounted a brush with the law he and longtime guitarist Mike Wanchic had after a night at the famous former NYC venue Max’s Kansas City, much to the amusement of the crowd.

The nostalgic “Cherry Bomb” proved a fitting track toward the end of the set, taking a warm look back to the past while tracing a line to the present. Whether young or old, the audience gave an enthusiastic standing ovation as Mellencamp rolled through a little call-and-response based on Louis Armstrong’s “Long Gone (From Bowlin’ Green).” It seemed that the cheers from the fans might coax the band back onstage for a traditional encore, but the house lights flickered to life — and oh yeah, life goes on.