The Leader Post: Mellencamp Still Has The Magic



One of the most important musical acts of his generation, Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inductee John Mellencamp lives up to the billing and then some.

Having already performed at the Conexus Arts Centre Friday night, the 63-year old roots rocker returned to the stage Saturday night for a second show and had the entire theatre boogeying by the end.

The show began with the lovely Carlene Carter performing a 40-minute set that was tremendous considering she was able to captivate the crowd with her voice, an acoustic guitar, and a number of stories of what it was like to grow up as a member of the Carter clan. Approaching 60 years of age, Carter still has an amazingly powerful voice and made the night special even before Mellencamp came out.

Yet, the man once known as John Cougar managed to turn an already special night into an extraordinary one with a 21-song set that demonstrated the Indiana rocker’s versatility.

Playing with a six-piece band where the men were dressed in suits and violinist Miriam Sturm in a black top and gown-like purple skirt, Mellencamp opened his show with Lawless Times and Troubled Man from his latest album Plain Spoken. The backdrop resembled something Hunter S. Thompson’s illustrator Ralph Steadman may have created, and combined with the lighting choices often resembled a prohibition-era big band or jazz feel. It definitely added an ambience to his most recent Americana and roots rock flavoured material.

The crowd appreciated the whole show but the room would instantly ignite any time Mellencamp would start any of his hit singles such as Small Town, Authority Song, or Pink Houses.

He took the stage by himself with an acoustic guitar for the fan favourite Jack & Diane, teasing the crowd by stopping after the first verse as many in the crowd started singing the famous chorus. Reminding people there is actually a second verse before the chorus starts he jokingly chastised the audience for being in a rush to get to the chorus. Leaving the choruses to the crowd for most of the song, the theatre effectively became a singalong as the near capacity crowd belted out the lyrics.

Having worked on writing a musicalsince 2000, Ghost Brothers of Darkland County, with horror author Stephen King and musical producer T. Bone Burnett since, he performed a couple duets from it with Carter who came back out. Simply put, it was great.

Mellencamp’s band was beyond reproach and clearly some of the best musicians at their respective instruments. It would be near impossible to think of any way the music or the show itself could have been improved.

Avoiding the cliché encore, the dynamic rocker introduced his nostalgia-longing hit Cherry Bomb with an anecdote about his 40 years in music with longtime guitarist Mike Wanchic.

“We’re qualified to talk about old times. When I was younger and people would talk about old times, I couldn’t get out of there fast enough, but as I get older I think it’s okay to think about old times. My son, who is 21, was a Golden Gloves boxer and he’ll ask me if remember such and such fight. I’ll say that was only two years ago, but for him that’s old times. Two years for Mike and I is a nap.”

With that, the theatre joined together one last time singing along to Cherry Bomb and enjoying the remaining moments of an incredible evening.

One that will definitely be remembered when thinking back on old times.