With a voice now more gravel than sweet and a frame suggesting he has experienced every one of his 63 years, John Mellencamp and a six-member band brought the tour behind his 2014 work Plain Spoken to the Merriam Theater this past Tuesday. Bluesy, inventive and energetic, it was one of my favorite concerts so far this year.
Of course the hits were present, but with some arrangement tweaks. “Jack & Diane” was solo acoustic, with Mellencamp allowing the audience to carry the chorus burden, even if they did forget when to start singing. “Paper in Fire” stirred the embers of memory and “Rain on the Scarecrow” was a torrent of crowd and performer movement. Newer works stood their ground as well, with opener “Lawless Times” beckoning everyone to their feet.
Carlene Carter, who opened the show with a gorgeous set of her own songs and those of the Carter family, joined Mellencamp to do two rousing numbers from the Mellencamp and Stephen King musical collaboration Ghost Brothers of Darkland County. The highlight of the night beyond the aforementioned was “The Full Catastrophe.” Mellencamp and piano accompaniment with blazing spotlights spun this bluesy tale straight to the spine.