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John Mellencamp brings Americana to the Fox

Mellencamp

By Bo Emerson bemerson@ajc.com

John Mellencamp pulled his Airstream trailor behind the Fox Theatre Sunday and delivered a solid evening of Hoosier rock and roll to an appreciative, almost-sold-out crowd.

Looking fit and pumped, Mellencamp started with a croaky voice that grew stronger through the evening, and by the end of the night he was shouting out the high notes with ease.

Themes of youth and age have been in Mellencamp’s songs since he had three names. This year he turns 60 (plenty of his audience members Sunday looked like they’d already crossed that threshold) and seems to be staring at mortality more often. “With all the cigarettes I’ve smoked I guess I have another 18 years,” he said.

Mellencamp spoke about making fun of old-timers when he was younger: “I thought I was a dangerous young man, but I really was a smart-ass.”

Now he said his attitude toward age has changed.

“Take a look to your left and a look to your right. If you see a guy with gray hair he’s probably a dangerous old man.”

Mellencamp paced the show with theatrical flair, backing off the tension for low-key songs on acoustic instruments (such as his lilting duet with violinist Miriam Sturm on  “Jackie Brown,”) and then bringing the full band back for the floor-stomping numbers like the show opener “Authority Song.”

“I might be the worst guitar player in the world,” he said after a solo acoustic version of “Small Town.” Of course, he’s a fine three-chord basher. But his songs demonstrate that great music doesn’t need complex harmony.

“He’s a storyteller,” said Bill Fowler of Suwanee, putting Mellencamp in the same league as  Bruce Springsteen. “He’s iconic.”

In the most powerful moment of contrast, a delicate instrumental moment between Sturm on violin and Troye Kinnett on accordion was followed by a red-lit “Rain on the Scarecrow,” with Dane Clark switching from cocktail drums to a full set and John Gunnell moving from acoustic to chest-shaking electric bass. (Guitarists Andy Yorke and Michael Wanchic rounded out the ensemble.)

The concert was preceded with the screening of a documentary about the making of Mellencamp’s latest album, “No Better Than This,” which was recorded in historic locations on a vintage portable Ampex. Mellencamp and his band traveled to Sun Studio in Memphis, the First African Baptist Church in Savannah and the San Antonio hotel room where blues singer Robert Johnson recorded “Crossroad Blues.”

Also on display at the Fox were paintings from Mellencamp’s second career as a visual artist, though they were not well lit nor explained.

Mellencamp played without a break for more than two hours, sprinkling even his most well-worn radio hits, including “Pink Houses” and a reggaed-up version of “Jack and Diane”with his newer material. The audience was grateful, and stayed on its feet through the finale.

30 comments Add your comment

[...] post by RollingStone.com: All News and software by Elliott Back February 28th, 2011 | Category: Rock Video [...]

justduckie

February 28th, 2011
12:57 pm

Great show – thoroughly enjoyed it. Wish he would have not screwed with Jack & Diane (some songs you shouldn’t touch for the fans’ sake!) but would have loved a poignant acoustic version of Rain on the Scarecrow…

Uhoh

February 28th, 2011
1:36 pm

Knew him in the John Cougar days-first class @-hole.

[...] post by RollingStone.com: All News and software by Elliott Back February 28th, 2011 | Category: Rock Video [...]

Jeffw

February 28th, 2011
3:12 pm

Horrible show, one of the worst I have seen in 100+ concerts. If an artist selects not to play his popular older items, they should warn ticket buyers before the show. Given the number of people looking forward to “Jack and Diane” – it was heartbreaking he ruined it. Total disreguard for fans that shelled out a lot of money. I understand artist have “artistic control” over what they play, but don’t fans have some rights as well?

lukas

February 28th, 2011
3:27 pm

Jeff . . in his recent interviews he stated he would not being playing them

lukas

February 28th, 2011
3:28 pm

sorry about the typo above

Rick Nelson

February 28th, 2011
3:38 pm

An artist should not be expected to play all of his/her “golden oldies” just because one fan wants them to! Ask fans of Robert Plant/ Led Zeppelin if The Band of Joy did only Zep songs recently at the Fox. People change – some of the one hit-hit-wonder bands of the ’80’s nearly went nuts because fans only wanted to hear one song. Old is good but new can be better!!

Yeah Right

February 28th, 2011
3:49 pm

An artist has an obligation to play the “hits” that his fans want to hear, no matter how much “he is tired” of playing them. This was a terrible snoozer of a show and most fans left extremely disappointed.

Rick Nelson if you weren’t there keep your yap out of it.

It wasn’t that he didn’t play them…he did play a “handful” of them. It’s that he either completely changed them because the makeup of his band was incapable of play them right, or he was just being plain lazy about it.

Fact is, I pay good money ($100 per seat) to see the guy play what made us like him in the first place, not what his self-indulgent egotistical lazy azz feels like because all he cares about is himself.

Mark

February 28th, 2011
3:57 pm

I saw his show the night before in Columbia, SC. I understood his wanting to expose the audience to his newer stuff, but I sure wished he had played at least a couple more of his classics. And I could have done without the two political diatribes, but I guess that’s to be expected with him.

Yeah Right

February 28th, 2011
3:58 pm

Oh yeah…Jack and Diane sounded like a freakin’ bluegrass song…it was terrible.

The stuff you paid to hear, that you wanted to hear, he played by himself on his acoustic with an occassional sit in from the fiddle and accordian…but none of the parts were right. They hardly sounded like the same songs.

I think it’s a case of a scaled down ensemble to save money and enhance profits. And his new material pales in comparison to the old John. What happened to you buddy? You bought your own BS.

Oh yeah, the movie. They tell the fans to be there at 6:30 and spring the son’s movie on it documenting the greatness of the father. The songs in the movie were better than what he played on stage. But the movie itself was boring and if we had known (shame on us), we would have shown up at 8:00.

All in all it was a waste of five hours and several hundred dollars.

BTW, John…quit trying to be Bob Dylan and can the ‘your saving the farmers’ crap. You wanna get back to your roots? Play the music that brought you to where you are and make your fans happy.

What a ripoff!

Concert Goer

February 28th, 2011
4:17 pm

I agree with “Jeffw” and “Yeah Right”………..That was the WORST show i have ever seen in 25 years off live shows. What a scam. He was performing for HIMSELF and not the audience……and what was up with that Dancing with the Devil crap??? Shelled out $300 for 2 tickets…………what waste!!!!! Couldn’t he at least done few numbers we all know and love? I will NEVER go see him perform live again.

brian

February 28th, 2011
4:46 pm

get over it show was good as the crowd left people were very happy they went,
play a cd and stay home loosers

IWasThere

February 28th, 2011
5:29 pm

Wow, I must have seen a different show and crowd then you all, because it looked to me like Mellencamp rocked the Fox pretty good last night. I agree with the posts about messing with Jack and Diane, would have preferred to here it in original form, but it was not that bad. And as far as his new stuff goes, if you are a fan at all you know exactly what he has been recording the last 10 years and said he would play on tour all along. I thoroughly enjoyed the show, there are not many singer songwriters like him left anymore, and the current generation does not seem to have anyone who will step in to fill the void.

Reality Train

February 28th, 2011
6:25 pm

What? I can’t believe me eyes!!! I am shocked!!!!! The AJC actually does a concert review .. What happened???? I can honestly say that my biggest disappointments about the AJC since I moved here in 1985 is how it ignores the Atlanta concert scene, With all the great acts coming to the Fox, Chastain, Phillips, Eddiies Attic, Variety Playhouse .. there is seldom any mention of any concert except for an occasional picture or blurb. I always wonder : “What did they play?” “How were they?”.. you sure can’;t depend on the AJC to deliver diddly-squat when it comes to this,. thank you Bo Emerson for at least trying to give a music fan some information

Ken

February 28th, 2011
8:25 pm

If you are a true Mellencamp fan, you probably loved the show. If you are not a true fan, you probably didn’t care for the show. I personally loved the show and I loved the way he changed arrangements on the old stuff. What I didn’t like were the stupid moron ushers trying to enforce the camera policy. The idiots didn’t even understand the camera policy. Some said no cameras, some said cameras were fine, just no flash.
Too many f–king rules. The Fox needs to just f–koff and let fans do what fans do.

SC

February 28th, 2011
8:57 pm

Some people must have left at intermission because at the concert I was at Sunday night I saw Mellencamp sing Small Town, Paper in Fire, Cherry Bomb, Rain on the Scarecrow, Check it Out, R.O.C.K. in the U.S.A, Authority Song, and other “hits”. I mean what else is the guy supposed to do? And the guy that wrote the guitar lick for Jack and Diane was standing right next to Mellencamp so I think the argument that the stripped down band was not capable of playing it is just laughable. They were a talented group of musicians without doubt.

Sure he played a lot of stuff from his last two or three albums, but why not? It was great stuff as well and most everyone I saw looked like they were having a good time. So would it be fair to his newer fans to play exclusively stuff from the 1980’s? Who is being self-serving here????? I think there are a lot of folks who maybe are not true Mellencamp fans lurking around.

Great concert John. I’d pay to see it again.

SC

February 28th, 2011
9:09 pm

Oh, and to one of the other posters above talking about the movie before the show. The movie was made by a father and son team, but it was cleary stated it was not Mellencamp and his son who were the movie makers. You must have been buying cotton candy at the begining or something. I thought the movie was pretty interesting overall and had a pretty poignant look at America today.

Maybe others would have rather seen some lame opening band who everyone either barely tolerates or heckles until they leave the stage, I don’t know. .Mellencamp played for over 2 hours and I think he personally left the stage only one time for a 3 or 4 minute violin/accordian transition in to Rain on the Scarecrow. Just crazy some of the people here.

Lou

February 28th, 2011
9:18 pm

I totally agree with JeffW, Yeah Right and Concert Goer. I was at the show Sunday night and love Mellencamp’s music so I was really looking forward to the show and had seen him over a dozen times before. When we got the tickets months ago, I of course had no idea about the set list. I think when you buy tickets to a show with an artist of this magnitude who has had tons of hits, you have a certain expectation that the majority of the songs that are played, you have HEARD before or would want to hear. He played I believe 24 songs and I think 12 had audience members scratching their heads saying what song is that? Most people who go to a show are not looking for song five from a CD, they want the songs they know and love. He started with Authority Song and then seriously out of the next 13 there may have been three that were hits or songs most people had heard before. Sorry but you need to play Hurt So Good or Crumblin Down or Lonely Ol Night and more than one verse of Cherry Bomb which sounded horrible singing it by himself. He destroyed Jack and Diane too! The two songs he played right before his last two songs of the night were no name songs too. The musicians were amazing and even though I did like many of the songs, they were not the tunes I want to see at a concert. If you want to play six odd tunes, sprinkle them through the show. Not so there are like 8 in a row. I definitely did not love this show, that is for sure.

marlene

February 28th, 2011
11:26 pm

I was at the concert in Philadelphia, but from looking at the different reviews from two different cities, it was almost the same show no matter the location. I agree totally with Lou. When I bought the tickets last November, I had no idea what the set list would be. I went to the concert with the normal expectation that John Mellencamp would play many of his popular songs.

After he opened with Authority Song, the concert went downhill fast from there. Halfway through the concert, Mellencamp told a story about walking around Philly during the day and meeting a man who asked him if he planned to sing Cherry Bomb. He said he wasn’t, but he would play it anyway. Instead, Mellencamp sang one verse (poorly) while asking the audience to sing with him. I wonder if he told the same story and substituted Atlanta for Philly.

If Mellencamp had played even some of his hits mingled with his other songs, it wouldn’t have been as bad. Finally, after many, many, many obscure songs, the last four of the night were hits. The audience responded by jumping out of their seats simultaneously as if they also thought that this is what we came for. But by then, the concert was over. As the audience was leaving, they were so quiet, not the sound you hear when you leave a concert that you enjoyed.

It was so disappointing after months of anticipating this concert, and I’ve been a John Cougar fan since his first album.

SC

March 1st, 2011
5:45 am

What “no name” songs are you talking about? If you are a Mellencamp fan and have some of his recent albums you know all these songs. If you are stuck in the 1980’s and have not grown musically then there is no helping you. I guess next time they can just play some 80’s CDs (or would you prefer cassettes or 8-tracks) over the loud speaker.

Kenny Arnoff

March 1st, 2011
8:36 am

Well, I wish I was still in the band. When I played, we rocked out and I would not have let “Jack and Diane” turn into a bluegrass, country reggae kind of thang. I would have banged it out and rocked the house. Plus, John is kind of an AH, but he knows who he ist. But, I can tell you, from the 6th row, it was enjoyable to se the AH acting like a rock star, cashing his check and doin’ what he does, which is whatever he wants to do. That will never change. I’ll be at the next show either at the Variety Playhouse with John playing the role of John Prine and singing solo attempting to bang out 3 chords and the truth on his acoustic or back to Encore where maybe he’ll ask me back to rock out to 12,000 souls in need of more than an Elvis and Robert Johnson education.

marlene

March 1st, 2011
1:03 pm

SC—You are missing the point. Mellencamp’s last albums do not have the hits that made him famous. I (and probably some of the others that were disappointed in his concert) expected that he would play them.

By the way, I do have Mellencamp’s recent albums, but he played the songs at the concert (in Philly) with so much of a bluegrass lean it didn’t seem like the same songs. He over-exaggerated the bluegrass. You think I should grow musically? Do you think that means I should become a fan of bluegrass? I think not.

hootie

March 1st, 2011
7:28 pm

We had trouble enjoying the show at the fox due to the self centered people in the audience. FIRST, very few obey the policy of turning your cell phones off during the performance. The constant glares of phone screens was distracting. A PERSON sitting next to us was told by an usher to turn it off, which they did until the usher left, then they turned it on again. Banning them at the gate would make the show a whole lot enjoyable for a lot of people who have their cell phones off. Secondly, we were constantly getting up to let people by to go to the lobby for whatever heck drink or popcorn. Fox, please close concessions until intermission, I will never see another Fox show, what a waste of money. Last part of show Mellencamp’s bass drowned out vocals and other instruments, you would think after 35 years in thye business he would have a decent sound check.

Stephen

March 1st, 2011
7:35 pm

what a bad show ! The sound board guy must think all we wanted was bass drum! I felt he ruined all of his best songs ! I just listened to some of his songs on you tube and wondered what happened to that talented guy ! We were ripped off !!!!

IWasThere

March 1st, 2011
8:27 pm

Sounds like some folks needed to go see a Justin Bieber show so they could see someone play some “hits”. I was there and thought it was a good mix of old and new stuff. Can’t blame the dude for not wanting to relive the 80’s every night, I think there are enough bands doing that these days. And Bluegrass, are you serious? Have you ever heard real Bluegrass before? Trust me I grew up in the rural midwest and that was not Bluegrass Sunday night. Thankfully.

rocketmama

March 2nd, 2011
5:43 pm

OMG!! You people take the cake. You think you are a “fan” and you pay good money to go to a show full of songs that you’ve re-played over and over for YEARS…. because you want to re-live your youth, your glory days, your whatever…… so go buy a freakin CD and sit your a** in front of your stereo and listen to it for $14 bucks instead!!!!!!!!! The hallmark of a true MUSICIAN is to be versatile and talented in many forms of music! NOT to keep dredging up tired & worn songs in the same exact form. John Mellencamp’s music has only gotten better – but you’d have to have the ability to open your mind to realize that fact. I was at the show, have been a Johnny Cougar, John Cougar, John Cougar Mellencamp and John Mellencamp fan for a lifetime. That show Sunday night was one of the best concerts I have ever attended, and I have seen EVERYONE in rock, blues, folk. The POINT, you neanderthals….. is not to pay to go travel back in time to make you feel some sense of nostalgic nirvana, but to ENJOY MUSIC & MUSICAL TALENT. That show was rockin’, and NO – a lot of people DID NOT leave before the end!!! We were busy rockin & rollin and singing & dancin!! HOW MANY old songs would make you happy? Because by my count, he played at LEAST 8 of his “Classic” hits. His new CD IS different, but BTW guys – he IS an “Artist” and capable of performing many different musical styles. If you didn’t either buy or listen to the new CD, you should have kept your a** at home listening to the oldies on the radio. I agree with SC. Amazing show, amazing talent!!

Ken

March 3rd, 2011
8:36 pm

Well said rocketmama. John was fantastic. One of the best shows I have ever seen as well and I have seen a lot.
I would pay the same price to see the show again tomorrow.

Bryan

March 3rd, 2011
11:59 pm

Disappointing show, regardless of what rocketmama and ken say. Who are you to decide what a “real” fan is? Sounds pretty arrogant to me. I’ve been a music fan and a fan of John’s for a looong time, and go to a lot of and a variety of concerts from Mellencamp and Petty to KoRn and Disturbed. Being from Indiana originally I was pretty excited to see John live for the first time. I don’t mind that he played a lot of his new stuff. I have his latest album and I like it. What I have a problem with is his changing songs that people know and love to the point where they are barely recognizable and you can’t enjoy them, which is what he did to pretty much all of his most well known songs. I won’t be going the next time he’s in town.

GimmeABreak

March 4th, 2011
4:02 pm

Step 1: Get out your old CD’s
Step 2: Put on your favorite Mellencamp song
Step 3: Listen to it and stay the heck away from concerts where some of us want to go hear some good live music (and most certainlyt did that night)