The London Free Press: Mellencamp Ready To Rock - Inside Or Out

By Cathy Dobson - The London Free Press

It's been more than two years since John Mellencamp and his band set out on their No Better Than This tour, but it's still a genuinely good time on and off the stage, says guitarist Andy York.

"We spend a lot of time laughing at our drummer (Dane Clark) who is definitely one of the funniest people I know. He keeps everything really light," says York. "We have a lot of fun together."

Outdoor festivals can be a challenge for musicians, but York said Mellencamp and his band look forward to relaxing backstage at Sarnia's Bayfest and captivating onstage with a long roster of rock favourites.

York, like most of his five bandmates, has been with Mellencamp for years, toured with him at least 10 times, and still enjoys being on the road.

"It's like a family at this point," he said. " We can finish each others sentences, both verbally and musically."

The No Better Than This tour has crisscrossed the U.S. and Europe to enthusiastic reviews and is wrapping it up with two months in Canada.

When Mellencamp hits the Bayfest stage Friday night, the outdoor crowd will hear at least 90 solid minutes, including an acoustic set that some consider the highlight.

Other headliners are: country star Toby Keith on Thursday's opening night; Iron Maiden on Saturday night; Hedley on Sunday afternoon; and The Offspring close it out Sunday night.

Mellencamp's first segment is a rockabilly set, using a cocktail drum kit and upright base, said York.

"We try to emulate a '50s, old-school vibe."

The second block features Mellencamp doing acoustic numbers with various members of the band, including York, who performs the critically acclaimed Longest Days with him.

The third segment is the "balls out rock block," as York put it. "It's all the old favourites."

Mellencamp is one of America's most prolific singer/songwriters, known for his many pop tunes in the '80s and '90s, but still pumping out a successful album as recently as 2010.

He's had 22 top 40 rock and pop singles, including Hurts So Good, Jack & Diane, R.O.C.K. in the U.S.A. and Pink Houses.

At age 60, his contribution to the rock scene is considered an important body of work. His lyrics about small town America, ensure his shows aren't just about his mountain of well-known tunes but also about the storytelling.

York, who joined the band in 1994, says he doesn't have a favourite song but there are moments in the show he particularly likes.

"It's designed to come bursting out of the gates, with some peaks and valleys when things get soft, then ramp up a little bit, then just go balls out at the end.

"We ramp it all the way to 11."