Toronto Sun 4.5 Out 5 Stars Review: John Mellencamp Rocks So Good At Sony Centre


Don’t believe everything John Mellencamp says.

The 63-year-old roots rocker, smoking a cigarette while holding forth on David Letterman during his last appearance on the outgoing host’s late night talk show recently, said: “I hate touring but it’s the only life I know.”

But Mellencamp’s high-spirited performance Saturday night at the second of two shows at the Sony Centre during Canadian Music Week’s opening weekend would indicate otherwise.

Or certainly that once he gets from A to B - I saw a cool looking airstream trailer out back of the Sony Centre (he actually told Letterman he flies from city to city) - he’s pretty great at the performing part.

The Indiana-born musician and his six-piece band, including a drummer who played on two different kits, delivered a high energy, sonically creative set that ran just shy of two hours.

Equal parts heartland rock, blues, cabaret, gospel, soul, country and musical theatre - in the latter category there were two songs from the Mellencamp-Stephen King musical Ghost Brothers of Darkland County - there was really never a dull moment.

And when a female concertgoer shouted out, “Dance naked, John!" Mellencamp didn’t miss a beat: “Uh, you don’t want to see that. It ain’t pretty.” (His 1994 tour Dance Naked was when he suffered a minor heart attack.)

The singer-songwriter opened the evening with a duo of new tunes, Lawless Times and Troubled Man, from his 2014 album, Plain Spoken, before delving into older material like Minutes to Memories and crowd favourite Small Town.

But then he started to switch it up, doing the blues justice with the Robert Johnson cover Stones In My Passway, leading the audience in a clapalong during Check It Out, stripping things down for acoustic versions of Longest Days and Jack and Diane, the latter of which he stopped when the audience screwed up the lyrics.

“No, no, no, it’s two verses THEN the chorus,” he chided us. “You made the same mistake the first night too!”

Then Mellencamp lit up a smoke and proved equally adept at the cabaret-esque The Full Catastrophe before inviting opening act Carlene Carter, the daughter of June Carter and stepdaughter of Johnny Cash, on stage to belt out Away From This World before joining her on Tear This Cabin Down, both from Ghost Brothers. (FYI: Mellencamp told us the musical, which underwhelmed me when it played Massey Hall in 2014, is now being retooled in London’s West End.)

After a short instrumental medley by violinist Miriam Sturm, who Mellencamp kissed on the lips and then twirled and dipped after one of her more impressive solos, and - guitarist Andy York on accordion - (his guitarist Mike Wanchic has played with him for 45 years he said), the singer-songwriter returned to the stage sans blazer like he meant business.

What followed were fan favourites Rain on The Scarecrow and Paper in Fire, the gospel-fuelled If I Die Sudden and the show-ending crowd-pleasers Crumblin’ Down, Authority Song, Pink Houses and Cherry Bomb.

“When I was little boy, whenever I got sad, I would dance,” explained Mellencamp while introducing Cherry Bomb. “Try it next time you get sad. It will go away.”

It’s sure worked for him so far.


Lawless Times
Troubled Man
Minutes to Memories
Small Town
Stones in My Passway
Human Wheels
The Isolation of Mister
Check It Out
Longest Days
Jack and Diane
The Full Catastrophe
Away From This World (Carlene Carter on vocal)
Tear This Cabin Down (with Carlene Carter)
Violin and accordian medley
Rain on the Scarecrow
Paper in Fire
If I Die Sudden
Crumblin’ Down
Authority Song/Land of 1000 Dances/Authority Song
Pink Houses
Cherry Bomb