Saskatoon Star Phoenix: Saskatoon A Nice Fit For Mellencamp

Cam Fuller, The StarPhoenix
Published: Wednesday, February 13, 2008

There's no such thing, of course, but if there ever were SASK-Aid, there'd be no more perfect headliner than John Mellencamp.

He was born in a small town, and we live in a small town (or right next to a bunch of them), so the connection is natural. Not only that, but the Indianan's liberal leanings are hardly out of place in T. C. Douglas country. Then there's his temerity to question authority which makes the Farm-Aid co-founder the kind of heroic outsider we love to love.

Mellencamp brought his band, his humanistic message and almost 30 years of songs (yikes!) to Credit Union Centre on Tuesday night.

The understated opening moment, with the band strolling onto the stage, gave no hint of what was to follow: a breathtaking, non-stop run-through of some massive hits -- Pink Houses, Paper In Fire, I'm Not Running Anymore, Lonely Old Night and Check It Out. Half an hour elapsed before Mellencamp had to say a word.

When he did, he surprised us by saying that Saskatoon means more to him than we know. The city has become a charm because Mellencamp asked his wife early in their relationship if they'd still be together by Saskatoon. "Whenever we have a long journey ahead of us I look at her and say 'think we'll make it to Saskatoon?' '' Awww.

Mellencamp introduced a couple of new songs off his next album in a solo acoustic set, including A Ride Back Home (Hey Jesus) and Young Without Lovers. That's also when he did Small Town with video of our own li'l Toontown on the backdrop. Awww.

If he lived in a boring country, or one less prone to outrageous self-contradiction, Mellencamp's career may have been a short one. But a nation that loves its soldiers and hates its wars provides no lack of material. For the same reason, this Poet Laureate of the Interstate can trace a straight line from his earliest songs about the dark side of the American dream to his newest ones, about the country he wishes America would smarten up and turn in to. The theme is consistent without being repetitive, somehow, and that's certainly part of his genius.

After the solo stuff, the contrast was huge when the band snuck back in and kicked the straw out of the farming lament Rain on the Scarecrow, making it incredibly big and booming.

And, as the DJ said, the hits just kept on coming: Human Wheels, Crumblin' Down, R.O.C.K in the U.S.A., Jack and Diane, Authority Song.

Tom Cochrane and Red Rider opened the show with an hour-long set of familiar favorites. Cochrane's assignment was a tough one -- get people over 40 to act like they're not attached to their chairs with two-sided carpet tape.

But Cochrane and his band of four including longtime fretboard genius Kenny Greer made the job look almost easy.

After Sinking Like a Sunset and Big League, people started standing. By White Hot -- a dramatic effort with searing trills by Greer -- chairs had been abandoned. And much to Cochrane's delight, most of place was on its feet for Life is a Highway.

An encore was demanded and given with Boy Inside the Man, featuring a big, full-blown rock show outro. Cochrane was so pleased he did a scissor kick, and speaking of middle age, it was nice to see someone with an even worse vertical than me.

Never one to lack confidence, Cochrane dared to ask "How many of you guys are here to see Tom Cochrane?'' -- and to tell any critics in the house to take note of the response. For the record, Tom, more than a few cheered in response.
Read the Saskatton Star Phoenix article online.