Globe And Mail: Oh Yeah, John Goes On


February 8, 2008
John Mellencamp
At the Air Canada Centre in Toronto on Wednesday

I'm not sure John Mellencamp knows his Cormac McCarthy from his Coen brothers, but he knows that the United States - and we can tell him Canada too - is no country for old men. The big-song populist, fireplug fit and robust as a performer, made mention of his age more than once between songs at Air Canada Centre, and it wasn't a ploy for anyone to respond, "Gosh, he sure looks great for 56." (Even though, gosh, he sure did look great for 56.)

Casually walking on stage with his six-piece band, the Indiana sloganeer called the "1-2-3-4" lead-in for a sardonic anthem of adulthood, about how crazy young dreams go to die in little pink houses. Ain't that America.

Pink Houses was the first of five hits played in rapid-fire fashion, ending with the fiddled folk rock of Check it Out, a poignant comment on misguided motivations and blinkered living that poses the question: "Where does the time go?"

Where does it go, indeed? Mellencamp, who will be inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame this year, has often addressed themes of mortality, and the material he presented from his forthcoming album Life, Death, Love and Freedom continues with that theme. Pausing to discard his jacket and roll up his sleeves (and then, making a show of it, rolling up his sleeves some more), the singer began a solo set with Minutes to Memories, a wistful old man's narrative, and continuing with the new A Ride Back Home (Hey Jesus), lamenting, "I once showed some promise, but now it's gone." The dark number might have had Johnny Cash agreeing from his grave.

After Small Town, Mellencamp's band regrouped for more premieres. Troubled Land is a stoutly rocking commentary on war. Jena is the name of small southern town recently in the news for its noose-decorated trees. Hang low, Louisiana.

With the swamp-boogied If I Die Suddenly, Mellencamp again mused on his mortality, insisting that he would need no preacher when he passed, just a six-foot pine box.

Later in the set, the crowd of baby boomers joined in, chanting with dozy resignation, "Oh yeah, life goes on, long after the thrill of living is gone." The "little ditty about Jack and Diane" was never that simple. And now, with Mellencamp's audience greying and grateful for the chance to dance, it's dead serious.

John Mellencamp continues his Canadian tour with Tom

Cochrane & Red Rider through Feb. 19.

The goods


The brooding Rain on the Scarecrow, Check It Out and a cellphone-raising Jack & Diane.


Did we pass Freedom's Road? Tunes from the 2007 album were ignored.

The Crowd

Big-city small-towners, buzzed on $12 beer and wheat-land rock 'n' roll. And there was a dude wearing a T-shirt that read, "It's not my fault I'm so awesome."

In short

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