Sault Star: Mellencamp Makes It Hurt So Good; Tom Cochrane Proves He's Still White Hot

It's little wonder Republican front-runner John McCain was hell-bent to adopt John Mellencamp classic Pink Houses along the campaign trail - albeit much to the chagrin of the left-leaning American rocker.

This tune makes people want to move without abandon, as witnessed Friday night at the Steelback Centre when Mellencamp shook the house to a degree it's perhaps never been shaken before.

The diminutive music legend received a standing ovation from this capacity crowd even before the first lines of Pink Houses were let loose from Mellencamp's lips, proving full well why he's set for a berth in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame next month and recently nominated for yet another Grammy.

Call him John Cougar, John Cougar Mellencamp, John Mellencamp . . . whatever. The old cat can still roar, logging nearly two hours on stage shaking, quaking and keeping many on their feet throughout.

Aided by a very able touring band, Mellencamp mined deep into his extensive catalogue of classics, including Paper In Fire, Lonely Ol' Night, Rain on the Scarecrow, Jack and Diane, R.O.C.K. in the U.S.A., Check it Out and Crumblin' Down, as well as offering a few samples from his yet untitled album.

But Mellencamp was arguably at his best alone on stage with the aid of his trusted acoustic guitar, playing toned-down takes a number of tunes, including Small Town and Ride Back Home.

It was then he began a curious dialogue with the audience, playing the part of everything from preachy peacenik to class clown and down-home storyteller.

Mellencamp related his early musical wanderings, playing in bars as a 14-year-old and being angered at the treatment of a black bandmate. He told the audience how he marvels at anyone not fond of mixing with those unlike themselves and are not curious about the world around them.

"If a Martian landed right here, I'd go up to the motherf----- and ask him his name," said Mellencamp to boisterous cheers.

It wasn't all introspection as the 56-year-old rocker added a verse to Small Town: "My wife was 15 years old when I wrote this," referring to his third and current spouse, former supermodel Elaine Irwin, some 18 years his junior. An off-the-cuff reference to fact George W. Bush's tenure as U.S. president is coming to a close drew loud cheers.

It was a delight to hear Mellencamp dust off the sadly overlooked 1993 single Human Wheels. If there was any disappointment from Friday night's performance, it had to be the omission of very early offerings, particularly the two impressive singles from Nothin' Matters and What If it Did: Ain't Even Done With the Night and This Time. It also would have been nice to hear 1979's I Need a Lover, a riff-laden number still often heard on classic rock radio.

Mellencamp's encore selection was Authority Song, from 1983's Uh-Huh.

"Can you imagine being in a band, travelling the world, doing what you want to do (for a living)?" Mellencamp said.

It was also nice seeing the Steelback filled to capacity - Mellencamp sold just under 5,000 tickets - after two embarrassing turnouts for recent Blue Rodeo and Michelle Wright shows, neither of which drew even 2,000. Friday night's audience was mostly middle aged, middle of the road, with a few thinning mullets and aging, leather-clad rock queen's tossed in for comic relief.

As for opener Tom Cochrane, the veteran Canadian rocker could have easily carried an evening at the Steelback by himself.

The multiple Juno winner - he's nominated again this year for his new album No Stranger - churned out a string of Cochrane classics, even going so far as dusting off the early Red Rider single White Hot.

Juggling acoustic and electric guitars, the still-agile 54-year-old shook a leg to radio hits, such as Lunatic Fringe, Big League, Good Times and No Regrets.

But it was his classic, Life is a Highway, from the smash 1992 album, Mad Mad World, that set the Steelback on fire.

Cochrane first feted Rascal Flatts for later taking the tune to the top of the country charts, but quickly trumpeted, "This is my song." Most impressive was this opening act being called out for an encore, which Cochrane and his Red Rider colleagues did with a roaring rendition of Boy Inside the Man.

Perhaps Cochrane summed up Friday night's electric atmosphere best, telling his faithful, "You guys are crazy."

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