I think that John Mellencamp might be the coolest guy on the planet. He’s the personification of the most interesting man in the world. He’s got the stories, the songs, the women, the style, and an entourage of brilliant musicians and producers to back it all up. He’s the very definition of Americana and often cited as the only roots rocker who matters to his generation and pretty much my lifetime.
Touring in support of his latest record Plain Spoken, Mellencamp treated a sold out Paramount Theater to a stellar performance of both his classic and new songs. I loved the fact that Mellencamp only peppered in the “hits” during the first half of the set so that he could focus on the newer material right out of the gate.
Opening up with “Lawless Times” and then straight into “Troubled Man,” both cuts from the brilliant new record, was the perfect way to set the stage and the mood for the evening. Here’s a guy who continues to evolve as a songwriter while not forgetting to celebrate his past. Later on in the set would be another track from the album, my absolute favorite, “The Isolation of Mister.” If you don’t have this record yet, it’s the best thing he’s done in the past ten years in my opinion. I would have been OK with him simply playing the new record in its entirety.
In between songs Mellencamp told stories of his life and the lessons he’s learned along the way. One particular anecdote was how his father calls him almost daily and every time closes the conversation with, “Don’t forget to get some sunshine on your face.” Mellencamp is not only an avid storyteller through his songs, but he’s also got a knack for the spoken word as well.
Other highlights from the set included a brilliant rendition of the Robert Johnson classic “Stones in my Passway,” a stellar Tom Waits-esque version of “The Full Catastrophe” from the under-celebrated Mr. Happy Go Lucky album, and a couple of duets with Carlene Carter in the form of “Away from the World” and “Tear Down this Cabin.”
Then there were the classics and set staples including “Pink Houses,” “Small Town,” “The Authority Song,” and stripped down versions of “Check it Out” and “Jack and Diane.” (I wonder if he even thinks of playing “Hurt so Good” at all. It would be interesting to see how he would interpret that one live these days.)
The only thing missing from the set that I would have loved to hear is a song or two from the terribly underrated Cuttin Heads record that came out in 2001. Two of my all time favorite Mellencamp songs are on there and I never hear them live, “Women Seem” and “Worn Out Nervous Condition.”
Carlene Carter opened the show quite gracefully with a solid set of songs that included her own solo material alongside a few classic songs from her family’s legendary catalog. “I’m just doing my part to keep my family legacy alive,” she said as she switched between the acoustic guitar and piano. Her voice was absolutely stellar and she connected with the capacity crowd as if they were all her family. It was one of the most sincere performances I have seen in a very long time and set the stage perfectly for Mr. Mellencamp.