Mellencamp: Just As He Should Be

By Jenny Luth

Bold and full of life, John Mellencamp was just as he should be on Tuesday night at DeVos Performance Hall in Grand Rapids.

Having seen Mellencamp on tour many times and only in the arena setting, I was interested to see how he would use the smaller, yet more formal setting of DeVos Hall to his advantage - or disadvantage.

The evening started with a screening of an hour-long documentary "It's About You". The Super 8mm film shown on a theater-sized screen that filled the stage, gave an intimate look into Mellencamp's life from personal experiences to various 2009 tour dates and recording sessions.

Though appearing to run longer than it clocked in at, and being somewhat draining for fans that had yet to get their fill from the lobby bar, the documentary was creative and informative regarding the farmer/advocate/musician's life and values, which resounds loudly in his music.

Preceding the band's curtain call, the venue went black with only the loud, low voice of Johnny Cash singing, "God's Gonna Cut You Down".

Suddenly Mellencamp came to life in a way that I had never seen in the larger scale venues of the past.

A floor-to-ceiling, charcoal-on-canvas like backdrop of a small-town square set the mood of the evening. With large strands of bulbous blue and white lights hanging over the stage, it was if the 6-piece band and Mellencamp were playing at a summer picnic in their hometown - and the crowd loved it.

Familiar sightings of couples dressed in jean-on-jean outfits reliving their "American Fool" days were on their feet dancing to Mellencamp's old standby songs, like "The Authority Song" and "Check It Out" but were equally enjoying his newest tunes from his 2010 album, "No Better Than This". Passionate messages rang loud through new songs like, "Save Some Time To Dream", "No One Cares About Me", and the lyrically amusing, "Easter Eve".

What I appreciated the most about the music was the retooling of melodies - especially noticeable in classic songs like "Paper in Fire" and "Crumblin' Down". The sound was bluesy, folksy at times, and even a few of the new songs (for all you young kids) reminded me of the popular indie band - Vampire Weekend.

But don't be fooled, John Cougar Mellencamp, Johnny Cougar, or whatever you know him as, is still as he should be this time around as John Cougar Mellencamp.