Review by Al Beeber Lethbridge Herald
John Mellencamp may well be the poet laureate of a generation of blue-collar
heartland Joes and Janes.
The Bloomington, Indiana native, Rock and Roll Hall of Famer and superlative storyteller put on a performance Sunday night at the Enmax Centre his fans will never forget.
Mellencamp, who recorded his first and largely forgettable album in the mid 1970s, is more than a musician. He’s a storyteller, an activist and an artist who through his music creates an aural tapestry of brilliance, colour, depth and sincerity.
Through more than 90 minutes of mesmerizing musicianship with a voice that has aged like fine whiskey, Mellencamp took fans on a journey through his musical career, giving them – as he said early on – songs they could dance to and songs they had never heard before.
His 18-song set had him in front of his six-piece band, sometimes alone with a piano or fiddle and for one song that will be remembered “long after the thrill of livin’ is gone” alone on stage with an acoustic guitar performing the legendary “Jack and Diane” with the audience singing the chorus.
That moment was almost a spiritual one and showed Lethbridge the true enhance of John Mellencamp the artist, a man who can touch thousands with just his words and guitar pick.
He opened the show with the song “Lawless Times,” the closing track from his 2014 album – and 22nd studio recording – “Plain Spoken.”
He then dove into the 2008 “John Cockers,” which also may not be particularly well known to casual fans before sending the crowd into applause with the hit “Minutes to Memories.”
After hitting the right chord with his fans with “Small Town” and other favourites including “Check it Out,” he told a touching story about his grandmother – one people who are familiar with his Plain Spoken live show or Netflix documentary will have heard – then launched into “Longest Days,” an ode about the shortness of life and the need to appreciate it.
Fans also had the privilege of hearing extraordinary live versions of tunes such as “Rain on the Scarecrow,” Mellencamp’s voice as ferocious on this night as it was when he first performed the song in the 1980s.
And that’s Mellencamp – he may be older and a little greyer but his talents are as strong as ever, his presence on the stage just as commanding and perhaps more so with the passing of time as he becomes a more wizened statesman of heartland roots rock and roll. That was particularly true on “Paper in Fire” and “Authority Song,” which were among his final efforts of the night.
His set was a testament to Mellencamp’s creativity and immense catalogue which 18 songs barely sampled. But those songs were enough to show fans why he has been a favourite for so many years. And is still relevant to this day.