Ottawa Citizen: R.O.C.K At The NAC

Ottawa Citizen By Lynn Saxberg

John Mellencamp made middle age look cool at the National Arts Centre on Sunday. Sporting a neatly trimmed grey beard, the 59-year-old classic rocker appeared fit and muscular in his tailored suit, while his voice had the power of an avalanche in a gravel pit.

Backed by a top-notch band, the American singer-songwriter-guitarist delivered a two-hour concert that involved storytelling and comedy, but was primarily devoted to showcasing music from each stage of his career, especially the dark, folky songs from the fine new album, No Better Than This, which was produced by T-Bone Burnett.

Mellencamp greeted the crowd with a promise to play “all kinds of songs,” but he doled out the hits sparingly, kicking off with a low-key Authority Song and including a warm, cozy version of Check it Out early in the show. The old nugget, Cherry Bomb, was apparently a request from a fan Mellencamp met while skating on the Rideau Canal earlier that day.

Mellencamp kept it interesting by varying the configuration of the band, from solo to duo to full-band. Violin and accordion filled out the textures, and the guitarists demonstrated an array of techniques. A standup bassist, keyboardist and drummer rounded out the lineup, as required.

After a swing through country and blues that consisted of lesser-known tracks like No One Cares About Me, Death Letter, John Cockers, The West End and Walk Tall, the band members departed the stage and Mellencamp told a story about how his dad always encouraged him to make time for fun. A tender solo version of Save Some Time To Dream followed.

At one point, Mellencamp had a message for the young bucks of the world that resonated with the boomer music fans who packed the house. In a nutshell, it was: Don’t mess with old guys.

“I’m a dangerous old man,” Mellencamp half-snarled, scanning the legions of grey-haired fans in front of him. “I’ve been flying around the world for the last 59 years, and I see a lot more dangerous old men out there that I wouldn’t want to cross.”

Despite the long stretches of unfamiliar songs, remarks like that endeared Mellencamp to his audience. So did the stories about his grandmother and his father. Plus, the band’s level of musicianship was so extraordinary that it was a pleasure just to watch them.

With the full band back on stage, Mellencamp led them through a homestretch that included the anthemic hits, Rain on the Scarecrow, Paper In Fire, What If I Came Knocking, Little Pink Houses and R.O.C.K. In the U.S.A. Everyone sang along, loud and proud, providing ample proof that you’re never too old to rock out.