By Matt Ryerson - Lincoln Journal Star
John Mellencamp stood at the microphone at the center of the Lied Center stage, holding an acoustic guitar and talking about the song he was going to play next.
“I wrote this song when I was a child,” he said. “This is like singing ‘Jingle Bells’ to me. The only reason I play this song is I know you guys want to hear it. And I know what I was doing the night I wrote this. It’s lucky it got written at all.”
Then he launched into “Jack and Diane,” his first hit, and brilliantly turned it into a sing-along that felt like it was written to be sung by a crowd.
That was among the peaks of a fine, road-tight show delivered by Mellencamp and his superb five-piece band.
It opened with “Lawless Times” and “Troubled Man,” a pair of songs from “Plain Spoken,” the album that gives the tour its name, then moved into an elongated version of “Minutes to Memories,” one of Mellencamp’s best songs even though it was never a single.
Showcasing his writing via arrangements like that of a quiet “Small Town,” the show was perfectly paced and effectively produced with simple, but dramatic lighting and performances that were well-fitted to the performing arts center environs.
“Jack and Diane” came midway through Tuesday’s 20-song, 110-minute show and
midway through a short acoustic set that began with Mellencamp and Andy York on
guitars as he sang a moving “Longest Days.”
Following the hit, Mellencamp channeled Tom Waits, delivering a gravelly-voiced take on “The Full Catastrophe” against Troye Kinnett’s bluesy piano.
Opener Carlene Carter joined Mellencamp on stage, the pair holding hands as they sang “Indigo Sunset” then going for hand-clapping gospel on “My Soul’s Got Wings,” lyrics by Woody Guthrie -- a pair of songs from the album the duo will release in February.
After an instrumental “Overture” made up of passages from about a dozen Mellencamp songs of the ‘80s and ‘90s stunningly played by Kinnett on accordion and violinist Miriam Sturm, the band, which performed in black suits, returned sans ties and a full-blown rock ‘n’ roll show broke.
It started with a rumbling “Rain on the Scarecrow,” then a haunting echoey “Paper in Fire,” “Crumblin’ Down” and a raucous “The Authority Song,” that was part sing-along, part drum solo and part medley with “Land of a Thousand Dances.”
Mike Wanchic’s indelible guitar riff signaled the start of “Pink Houses,” with more singing. Then after a spoken riff on old times, Mellencamp and the band tore through the rockin’ soul of “Cherry Bomb” to end the night. No encore necessary, thank you.
Carter opened the evening with a wonderful short set during which she played a couple of her hits, including a rockin’ take on “Every Little Thing,” told some very funny stories about herself and her famous family, did a couple Carter Family numbers and her own “Me and the Wildwood Rose,” a tribute to her grandmother, "Mother" Maybelle Carter.
“The Plain Spoken Tour” has just two more dates this week. Then Mellencamp’s two-year-long concert hall sojourn comes to an end. It couldn’t have been better performed, or received than it was at the Lied Center Tuesday.