Indianapolis Star: Mellencamp Wraps Up Tour Still Firing On All Cylinders
Across a year of traveling with
his "No Better Than This" tour, John Mellencamp has refined and improved what
was already the best road show of his career.
The Rock and Roll Hall of Famer played the final date of his 2011 calendar Saturday at Clowes Hall, where he also had presented one of the tour's earliest shows in November 2010.
An inventive program still re-imagines Mellencamp's catalog in three thematic acts, but the opening third of rockabilly is now better described as blues.
While a cover ofSon House's "Death Letter" is an obvious anchor for this segment, Mellencamp compositions "No One Cares About Me" and "John Cockers" are full-on examinations of misery.
A half-joking aura permeates 2010's "No One Cares About Me," which features lines about a disapproving sister-in-law and a self-assessment of being "spotty at best." "John Cockers," which appeared on 2008 album "Life, Death, Love and Freedom," is gloomy from beginning to end: "I know many, many people, but I ain't got no friends."
Saturday's show sandwiched "Death Letter" between "No One Cares" and "Cockers," suggestive of someone saying "We're doomed" with a chin-up disposition before eventually conceding, "No, we're really doomed."
The concert's middle segment of solo folk arrangements is now bolstered by a sudden and surprising placement of "Jack & Diane."
Last year, Mellencamp led into an a cappella sing-along of "Cherry Bomb" with a short speech about succumbing tonostalgia;-- even though that's not his thing. By unleashing an a cappella "Jack & Diane" with no warning, he delivered an invigorating dose of "I'll do this my way, and we'll all enjoy it just the same."
Overall, the tour succeeds because it's something other than a long-running rocker trotting out his hits just as you've heard them dozens of times.
With a year's worth of performances under his belt, Mellencamp has all three phases of "No Better Than This" cooking, but not glazed to mindless perfection.
Despite the sleepy narration filmmaker Kurt Markus supplies to "It's About You" -- the documentary film that's shown on every tour stop -- he's right when he says "slick" isn't what Mellencamp is about. So let's say the 60-year-old Seymour native is hitting on all cylinders.
"Authority Song" and "R.O.C.K. in the U.S.A." are revamped to convey the bracing joy of early rock 'n' roll, with the former including an instrumental quote of "I Fought the Law" and the latter including a snippet of "Little Latin Lupe Lu."
And for fans wondering how Mellencamp has altered the lyrics to "Small Town" since breaking up with his third wife, Elaine:
"I married a couple girls and took them to that small town, I don't know if it's the small town or me. . . . I think it's probably me."