Perth Now: John Mellencamp Blows Sandalford Winery Crowd Away

By Allen Newton
Why would any concert promoter want to use a venue other than Sandalford Winery in the Swan Valley?

With the sun going down, an enthusiastic crowd spread across the lawns, a glass of wine in hand and two fabulous performers - Sheryl Crow and John Mellencamp - on stage, it doesn’t get much better.

Mellencamp isn’t one of those performers I would instantly put on my list to go and see, but the veteran hit it off with the crowd in a big way at Sandalford’s Evening On The Green on Sunday night.

Kicking off his first Australian tour in 15 years with two Perth concerts, Mellencamp showed off a delightful range of styles and easily developed a rapport with the sell-out crowd.

It didn’t hurt that his support act came in the form of Sheryl Crow, who had the crowd grooving along to hits such as All I Wanna Do and If It Makes You Happy.

While Crow was singing about “a beer buzz in the morning” the crowd was already in the same spirit with plenty of people on a wine buzz up in front of the stage getting involved.

We were at the concert courtesy of garden company Yates, in fantastic seats just a few rows from the front. The sound for us was superb – and it didn’t seem as if there were too many complaints from the thousands spread out on picnic blankets around the sprawling lawns.

Crow offered her approval of the outdoor venue, saying it was great to turn up “with a cooler and your weed”.

Weed or not, the crowd was well and truly rocking by the time the sun had set and Mellencamp, with his Elvis-like hair and his band, strolled on stage.

“Are you ready?” he asked the crowd as the band launched into Pink Houses. It seems they were.

The bass and drums throbbing through his 1987 hit Paper In Fire had plenty of punch and while the twanging guitar and violin ain’t really my cup of tea My Sweet Love from his new 2008 album Life, Death, Love and Freedom, was well received by the crowd.

Mellencamp was nothing if not versatile, moving easily from the almost country to the entirely acoustic in a set without his band and accompanied only by his own guitar.

At times Mellencamp’s acoustic ballads are reminiscent of Dylan.

And the 57 year-old’s voice with those nice crusty tones certainly suit the music. He may have 21 albums behind him, but Mellencamp is certainly no has-been. He has grown beautifully into his music.

He enchanted the crowd with a story about his 100-year-old grandmother who, when he was about 40, started to pray saying: “Buddy (her nickname for him) and me are ready to come home.”

His grandmother may have been, but not Mellencamp, he was too busy raising Cain – the inspiration for Longest Days, also from the new album, a kind of ode to his grandmother.

From the acoustic set, while Mellencamp headed backstage - presumably for a bourbon and coke - keyboardist Troye Kinnett and violinist Miriam Sturm combined talents on accordion and violin for a little traditional crossover, while the band returned to the stage to move the vibe back into the rock and roll of his 1985 hit Scarecrow.

Then it was the more hard-driving bluesy sound of Six Feet Under, which really gave Mellencamp a chance to stretch his vocal chords.

The crowd didn’t need much encouragement when Mellencamp asked them: “Are you ready to dance?”

“Yes” they roared and up they got to the music of Crumblin’ Down. Mellencamp then revved up for the concert finale with a pumping rendition of R.O.C.K. In The USA and joined by the crowd singing enthusiastically. He then kept the crowd involved by asking them to phone a friend so Mellencamp could tell everybody: “This is John and we’ve got something to tell you” – launching into Jack And Diane.

And so it does for Mellencamp – and long may it continue to do so. This concert was a privilege to attend.
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