London Free Press: John Mellencamp Pushes The Audience To Make A Difference


There was no Cougar in the house last night.

No. John Mellencamp put his past behind him like he did his former moniker and proved he wasn't the same performer who threw drum equipment into a London crowd more that a quarter-century ago.

At 56, there are still glimmers of the rowdy, rebellious rocker with a chip on his shoulder -- spitting on the stage, for example -- but Mellencamp has matured and last night at the John Labatt Centre he proved it.

He was loose and fun and he used his powerful forum to praise the common man and push each of us to make a difference in our worlds.

He wanted the crowd to respond to him, but you got the sense if it didn't, he wouldn't throw anything.

"How many people here are under 30 years old?," he asked the 6,000 on hand. "You people under 30, it's going to be your responsibility to run this world. I hope you do better than my generation. But my generation, we're not done yet."

Bring it on, John. We're ready to hear all you have to sing and say.

His new material showed he hasn't lost his touch.

Some of the new songs are folksy ballads, such as the Ride Back Home, in which he talks to Jesus.

Is there some Merle Haggard influence there? Tom T. Hall?

"Be the best you can," he sang to the crowd through Minutes to Memories.

Gotta love a repentant singer.

Besides Ride Back Home, Mellencamp also sang If I Die Sudden and Jena from his new album, Life, Death, Love and Freedom, expected to be released soon.

Mellencamp is working hard these days as he also released Freedom's Road within the last year.

Our Country, from Freedom's Road garnered Mellencamp a Grammy nomination for best solo rock vocal performance. He'll find out Sunday if he's won.

Then on March 10, he'll be inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.

He didn't mention any of these honours, but did he mention one of his more infamous moments -- the 1982 London concert in which he didn't finish his set and left in a rage.

"Isn't this the place I threw a fit one night? I'm not some phoney baloney. I say what I (feel).

"I haven't changed," he said, but yes he has.

The grandfather's voice has matured and on his solo version of his American classic Small Town, it sounded soulful and sweet.

Mellencamp spoke to the crowd quite frequently, something he was loath to do earlier in his career, saying he felt people wanted to hear him sing, not talk. But last night we learned about him and he wanted to learn about us.

"I want to know about people that grew up in London, Canada. I want to know about people that are red and green."

He also wasn't afraid -- and maybe because he was in Canada -- to diss George W. Bush and get political with us.

"Today in the U.S. is Super Tuesday. You know what that means? We're going to get rid of George Bush."

The crowd seemed to love that as much as his mega hit R.O.C.K. in the U.S.A.

Luckily, Mellencamp hasn't cleaned up totally, 'cause he oozes cool.

His walk, his talk, his little dance when he wasn't playing his guitar were all done with flair.

He looked fit and fine with blue jeans and white T-shirt under a rolled-up shirt. Like his songs, he has aged well. He's no pudgy-faced, beer-bellied has-been.

The crowd was ready for him though, after a fine opening act by Tom Cochrane and Red Rider.

Cochrane, who has joined Mellencamp for his Canadian performances, didn't seem to mind opening, even though he's been the headliner here before.

He was in a jovial mood.

"We were just in Montreal and we dedicated this song to Guy Lafleur," Cochrane said as he introduced his hit song Big League.

Then he talked about everyday Canadians being the true stars. "Each and every one of you -- this is your song."

Cochrane's one-hour set also included Boy Inside the Man, Good Times, Life is a Highway and White Hot, the first song released by Red Rider.

"This song goes way back longer than I care to think," the 54-year-old Cochrane said.

He may not command the kind of attention he used to, but Cochrane still commands respect.

Read the London Free Press article online.