Sun Sentinal The Go Guide: John Mellencamp Rocks Packed Broward Center

The Go Guide | Sun Sentinel blog By Ben Crandell

The charismatic John Mellencamp brought his traveling revival show to the Broward Center in Fort Lauderdale Thursday night where a packed house was joyfully immersed in the elixir that the Indiana preacherman has been peddling for three decades now: straight Americana.

On a stage that will be occupied on Saturday by a national pop icon of another vintage, Tony Bennett, the 59-year-old Mellencamp delivered a rollicking paean to the heartland and the human struggle for decency, respect and rock 'n' roll.

Here are five takeways from the show:

1. Mellencamp was onstage for right around two hours and two dozen songs, and covered every nook in his catalogue, from 1983's classic sing-along "Pink Houses" to the steady-rollin' ballad "Save Some Time to Dream" on the excellent 2010 release "No Better Than This." The footloose opening number, "Authority Song," got half the crowd on its feet, but the first song that got everyone up was "Check It Out." Other stand-outs included an a capella, solo acoustic version of "Cherry Bomb," an extra-funky "Death Letter" and a Nashville-tinged "Jack & Diane" that snuck up on the crowd, but only slightly delayed the mad rush to the stage.

2. The evening opened at around 7 with the screening of “It's About You,” a documentary on the tour and recording sessions for "No Better Than This." The jittery Super 8 report works as a primer for Mellencamp's newly stripped-down sound and the ghosts that occupy it (from Elvis to Robert Johnson), and as a windows-rolled-down picaresque set along the flat highways that split decaying small towns in rural America. At nearly an hour long, it's also a buzz kill. Sadly, the bars in the lobby were nearly as popular as the film.

3. Mellencamp sounds good, looks good. He came on stage in a tailored blue suit, but soon doffed the jacket to reveal a tight black shirt with sleeves ending just above his still-imposing biceps. The ladies in the audience did little to hide their enthusiasm. Ditto when he would, here and there, bust a move or two across the stage. He's a little gray in the scruff of a latent goatee and maybe some in the hair, but the guy clearly still has it.

4. He's a great flirt, which feels a little different with the end of his 18-year marriage to Elaine Irwin Mellencamp, who is seen in a few shots in the opening documentary. "Patience!" he called with a glance to someone in the front row Thursday night. "You need patience. That's what all you younger girls need to learn. Patience!"

5. His save-the-working-man rap continues to go over with audiences in an era when that kind of talk is out of fashion. He followed his anthem for unity and empathy, "Walk Tall," with a brief critique of the decline of Western values, illustrated in the next song, the searing "The West End." Guitarist Andy York even gave the latter a few subtly eerie allusions to the Doors' end-of-days classic "The End." The crowd seemed to love it.