Vancouver Sun: Mellencamp Mixes Politics And Poignancy At Vancouver Show

Amy O'Brian, Vancouver Sun
Published: Tuesday, February 19, 2008
VANCOUVER - The timing for John Mellencamp's cross-Canada tour could not have been better.

Not only is the politically outspoken rocker on the Republican blacklist for requesting his songs stop being played at rallies for presidential hopeful John McCain (making him even more of a hero to most of his Canadian fans).

He's being inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in less than a month.

John Mellencamp performs during a concert at the Pacific Coliseum.
Richard Lam/Vancouver Sun

And even though it's been more than 20 years since they were recorded, hits such as Pink Houses and Check it Out are just as relevant as they were when they were at the top of the charts.

Physical proof of Mellencamp's relevancy could be found Monday night at the Pacific Coliseum, where women in their 20s danced and sang alongside men in their 40s. Everyone knew the words to the big hits and pretty much everyone cheered with each jab Mellencamp took at President George W. Bush or his fellow Republicans.

Not one to pass up an opportunity to make a political statement, Mellencamp opened his set with the surprisingly feel-good ode to broken American dreams, Pink Houses. Showing scenes from the film Easy Rider - which pits the left against the right - Mellencamp clearly illustrated the fact that the current political divide in the United States is nothing new.

The 50-something rocker also drove home the point that many of the United States' racial and social ills still exist with his new song, Jena, which is about the racial strife in Jena, Louisiana, where white students hung nooses in a tree a few years ago to send a message to the black students. The stirring song was one of several new songs Mellencamp played from his soon-to-be-released album.

After working up the crowd with hits from his Cougar days such as Paper in Fire and Lonely Ol' Night, Mellencamp's six-piece band took a break from the stage allowing the star of the night to play some of his lesser-known and new material on his own.

Watching and listening to him up there alone was impressive. His voice is still raspy and fantastic. He has a bulldog-like fighter quality that is a joy to watch. And he doesn't look haggard or spent. He looks as though he might keep doing this for another 20 years.

When his band re-joined him, things got louder and the crowd ramped up its enthusiasm.

One woman jumped on the stage and swayed drunkenly as she tried to hug the star. He was courteous and polite and the woman was escorted away.

Two bras were tossed on the stage and one young woman flashed her breasts during the massive Crumblin' Down sing-along.

Then, during Mellencamp's goofy radio hit, R.O.C.K. in the USA, the stocky star took a cautious fall backwards into the audience. It was a superb of-the-people moment from a for-the-people rock star.

Canadian rocker Tom Cochrane opened the show with a one-hour set that was packed with FM-radio hits such as Big League, No Regrets and of course, Life is a Highway. He sounded great and looked as though he was ecstatic to be there. And he even got to play an encore, which is a privilege that not many opening acts get.

The entire show was perfect for the Coliseum, which is celebrating its 40th anniversary this year. Mellencamp remembered playing there back in 1988, when a fist-fight broke out during the first song. And the arena has a surprising degree of intimacy when compared to GM Place.

Plus, the Coliseum has the added bonus of being close to Highway 1, meaning many of the people in the audience had quicker access to home, where they would get just a few hours sleep before heading off to their jobs in the morning. Mellencamp would be proud.
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