Charlotte L. Jacobson - The Citizens Voice
“Ladies and Gentlemen, from Bloomington, Indiana, please welcome Mr. John Mellencamp,” echoed throughout the F.M. Kirby Center.
The lights on the stage rose and a six-piece band stood together on stage. Chords from “Lawless Times” shook the theater as guitar and fiddles were met with cheers and claps.
Then, out walked the man of the hour, which brought everyone to their feet as he bowed to his fans.
John Mellencamp wowed a sold-out crowd at the F.M. Kirby Center for the Performing Arts Friday evening as a part of his seventh and final leg of the Plain Spoken Tour.
The Rock and Roll Hall of Famer launched his tour in early 2015 for his 22nd studio album, “Plain Spoken,” and extended dates through 2016 due to overwhelming demand. After more than 100 sold-out shows, Mellencamp announced he would visit 13 intimate venues across the country to perform songs from his extensive repertoire, including his stop in Wilkes-Barre.
But from the moment the lights dimmed and the 65-year-old took the stage, it was apparent that the heartland rocker isn’t slowing down anytime soon Mellencamp captivated his audience with his first three songs as people sat and listened, per his request.
Once his guitarist tore into the opening chords of “Small Town” the crowd members jumped to their feet and danced and clapped along to the beat.
“Thank you very much,” he said after the first few songs. “I’m John Mellencamp.”
He promised the crowd a variety of songs for the evening, from well-known to new songs, songs to sing along to and songs to dance to.
Shortly following this comment, Mellencamp began to groove along to the opening sounds of Robert Johnson’s “Stones in My Passway.” Soul oozed throughout the cover from Mellencamp’s gruff voice, Andy York’s smooth guitar and John Gunnell on the upright bass.
For anyone who expected the concert to be a casual affair, Mellencamp and his crew’s attire said otherwise. Although the frontman donned his usual blue jeans, he wore a sport jacket while the rest of his male bandmates wore suits. Violinist Miriam Sturm wore a floor-length purple dress to match the sophistication of the rest of the crew.
Although Mellencamp didn’t keep the crowd on their feet the entire night, he kept a continuous energy flowing through the theater. Fans stood for his more popular hits such as “Pop Singer” and “Check It Out” and sat to watch with earnest as he played some slower songs, like “The Full Catastrophe.”
And as captivating as Mellencamp was, his band kept up with ease. In an intense and beautiful showmanship of music, Sturm and Troye Kinnett, on accordion, played a thrilling several-minute instrumental interlude under spotlights.
Prior to playing a quiet, acoustic version of “Longest Days,” Mellencamp told the audience about his grandmother who lived to 100 years old. His story was met with a few cheers and laughs throughout, but the crowd was near silent when he said what his grandmother once told him: “Buddy, you’re going to find out that life is short even in its longest days.”
No matter the song, Mellencamp kept his adoring fans entranced throughout the night with his bluesy, soulful voice and impressive band.
As he began to play arguably his most famous song, “Jack and Diane,” not a soul in the audience was quiet. In a chill-inducing moment, everyone in the crowd sang along with the rocker in his acoustic version. But fans were quick to jump the gun to sing the chorus and mistakenly skipped the second verse, to Mellencamp’s amusement.
“No, you guys are jumping the verse! There’s another verse there. You’re going to have to wait another four lines,” he joked before picking back up with the song.