Madison Music Examiner 5 Star Review: A Multifaceted John Mellencamp Rocks Madison

By Daniel DeSlover - Madison Music Examiner

John Mellencamp performs live on 2015 Plain Spoken tour at Overture Hall in Madison, Wis.

5 Star Rating
Celebrating roughly four decades as a touring musician, John Mellencamp played to a packed house at the Overture Hall in Madison, Wis., on June 2. Touring in support of his latest album Plain Spoken, his 22nd studio release, Mellencamp’s show drew from every aspect of his accomplished career. Carlene Carter performed solo to open the show.

Mellencamp has made a successful career telling brutally honest stories through music, while tugging on the heartstrings of his fans along the way. His plainspoken delivery on subject matter that resonates with fans was obvious on Tuesday night. He performed with his airtight, six-piece band while also providing some insight into some of his songs.

Guitarist Mike Wanchic spoke with us prior to the tour and prefaced it by stating, “The fans are going to see things in this show that they've never seen at a John Mellencamp show, and may never see again. Through both the song choice and delivery, it's a unique opportunity to see a unique show.” Wanchic’s words rang true as Mellencamp worked through stripped down versions of his hits and touched upon some of his influences. A heavy riff lead into blues legend Robert Johnson’s cover of “Stones in My Passway,” while Mellencamp shuffled his feet on stage. His gravelly vocals were the perfect complement to Johnson’s song.

Each song conveyed a story and, on occasion, Mellencamp would break down the background behind a song. “A man has a dream…it’s not whether or not that dream comes true but it’s the quest that matters,” Mellencamp said. He added, “My grandmother once told me, ‘Life is short even in its longest days.’” He then played a stripped-down, acoustic version of “Longest Days.” He followed with a solo acoustic performance of “Jack and Diane” with the crowd coming in strong for the chorus. Mellencamp had to stop them when they chimed in prematurely after the first verse.

Components of rock, jazz, blues and country filled the night. Mellencamp performed the emotional “The Full Catastrophe” with only a backing piano. The country-tinged “The Isolation of Mister” took the show into another direction. Then, at midset, Mellencamp noted that he had spent 16 years working on a collaborative musical that recently came to fruition, “Ghost Brothers of Darkland County.” They performed “Away From This World” and “Tear This Cabin Down” from the production with opener Carlene Carter on vocals.

While the beginning of the show meandered between new material and various paths of Mellencamp’s prodigious catalog, it was the end of the night that had most of the house on their feet. Beginning with “Rain on the Scarecrow,” they proceeded to work through hits “Paper in Fire,” the rocking “If I Die Sudden” was the perfect segue into “Crumblin’ Down.” They finished strong with “Authority Song,” “Pink Houses” and “Cherry Bomb.” If tickets are available, this is definitely a show to see.

Remaining John Mellencamp “Plain Spoken” tour dates:

June 5 - Milwaukee, Wis. @ Milwaukee Riverside Theater
June 6 - Fort Wayne, Ind. @ Embassy Theatre
June 9 - Grand Rapids, Mich. @ DeVos Performance Hall
June 10 - Detroit, Mich. @ Detroit Opera House
June 12 - Baltimore, Md. @ Modell PAC at The Lyric
June 13 - Richmond, Va. @ Altria Theater
June 16 - Philadelphia, Pa. @ Merriam Theatred
June 17 - Roanoke, Va. @ Roanoke Civic Center Theatre
June 19 - Savannah, Ga. @ Johnny Mercer Theatre
June 20 - Augusta, Ga. @ William B. Bell Auditorium
June 23 - Memphis, Tenn. @ Orpheum Theatre
July 8 - Winnipeg, Manitoba @ Centennial Concert Hall
July 10 - Regina, Saskatchewan @ Conexus Arts Centre
July 11 - Regina, Saskatchewan @ Conexus Arts Centre
July 13 - Saskatoon, Saskatchewan @ TCU Place
July 15 - Calgary, Alberta @ Southern Alberta Jubilee Auditorium
July 18 - Vancouver, B.C. @ Queen Elizabeth Theatre
July 19 - Seattle, Wash. @ Benaroya Hall
July 21 - Portland, Ore. @ Arlene Schnitzer Concert Hall
July 23 - Fresno, Calif. @ William Saroyan Theatre
July 25 - Oakland, Calif. @ Oakland Paramount Theatre of the Arts
July 26 - Sacramento, Calif. @ Sacramento Community Theatre
July 28 - Los Angeles, Calif. @ Nokia Theatre L.A. Live
July 29 - Phoenix, Ariz. @ Comerica Theater
July 31 - Denver, Colo. @ Ellie Caulkins Opera House
August 2 - Omaha, Neb. @ Orpheum Theatre
August 4 - Indianapolis, Ind. @ Bankers Life Fieldhouse