Lithium Magazine: Massey Hall, Toronto - February 9th, 2011 Show Review
This past Wednesday night, before a full house at Massey Hall, “A Dangerous
Old Man” took the stage for the first of 2 nights. John Mellencamp’s
self-proclaimed Badge of Honour draws from his storied 35-year career as one of
our great life-lesson songwriters. Instead of beginning the show with the
requisite “opening act”, Mellencamp offered a 60-minute film documenting his
2009 tour with Bob Dylan, featuring concert footage and interviews. It gave the
audience a rare glimpse behind the scenes of his latest collection of work, “No
Better Than This”, during the recording sessions with legendary producer T-Bone
Burnett. This evening would prove to be an enjoyable rollercoaster ride through
the many diverse musical genres that make up the Mellencamp catalogue.
Mellencamp took the stage dressed in a tailored 2-piece brown suit and black shirt. His face, complete with graying beard, showed us that he has logged a lot of miles since many of his 80’s hits were shiny and new. Starting the show with his 5-piece band, “Authority Song” got the crowd moving. The stand-up bass of John Gunnell, the cocktail drum kit of Dane Clark, and the hollow body guitar work of Michael Wanchic added a distinct stripped down, country feel to the next track “No One Cares About Me”. The remaining 2 members of the band, Miriam Sturm (violin) and Troye Kinnett (accordion/keyboards) joined the show on the third song, “Death Letter”. Once Sturm and Kinnett walked on and started playing, it was evident just how integral those instruments were to Mellencamp’s sound - familiar and comforting.
Mellencamp was in fine form, telling diverse stories about devils, grandmothers, and bar fights. An a’cappella, solo acoustic version of “Cherry Bomb” was also a highlight of the night. The crowd rushed the stage for “Check It Out” and stayed there for the rest of the evening. And their enthusiasm wasn’t lost on Mellencamp who spent the rest of the show shaking hands and signing autographs.
The intimate setting of Massey Hall provided a perfect backdrop for Mellencamp’s down-home, guy-next-door demeanor, and the crowd hung on every word. From parents there with their teenagers for some good feeling nostalgia to the 20-to-60-something’s, all seemed to be there for different musical memories, and Mellencamp didn’t disappoint. Through the country-fried version of “Jack and Diane” to the haunting accordion/violin duet “New Hymn”, and moving seamlessly into the rocking “Rain on the Scarecrow”, Mellencamp proved that he is a master of musical costume changes. From this point forward, the drummer switched to the standard drum kit in order to produce the arena-filling rock sound that Mellencamp’s choice of songs required for the rest of the show.
The new material was inserted throughout the evening and included “Save Some Time to Dream”, “Right Behind Me”, and the title track from Mellencamp’s latest release “No Better Than This”. For this writer, many of these new songs were heard for the first time, and they still had the ability to be catchy and appealing right away. I think that is what makes Mellencamp such a resilient star. He has figured out the formula for writing music with staying power, without being pigeonholed into one narrow musical box. And his road-worn voice makes the transition from tortured southern blues singer, to raspy Joe Cocker inspired soul, to powerful rocker, seamlessly.
Later in the show, he introduced his touring band members with particular emphasis on lead guitarist, Andy York, who has been part of the team for all of their 35 years. The latter part of the set was filled with many of the hits that made Mellencamp a household name. “Paper in Fire”, “Pink Houses”, “The Real Life”, and the showstopper, “R.O.C.K. in the U.S.A.” closed out the set with everyone in the house standing and clapping along.
During that song, in a throwback to Bruce Springsteen’s “Dancing in the Dark” video from 1985, Mellencamp pulled an energetic female fan from the front row up on the stage for some impromptu dancing and singing. It was a feel good show from start to finish, with songs of pain, heartache, joy and triumph. And seeing a John Mellencamp show with 2700 or so friends in an actual concert hall, instead of in a cavernous arena, was a rare treat that doesn’t happen often… but probably should.
No One Cares About Me
The West End
Check It Out
Save Some Time To Dream
Don’t Need This Body
Right Behind Me
Jack and Diane
Rain on the Scarecrow
Paper In Fire
The Real Life
What if I came Knockin'
If I Die Sudden
No Better Than This
R.O.C.K. In the USA