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MELLENCAMP DISCUSSION => Tour Talk => Topic started by: walktall2010 on February 20, 2015, 12:23:13 am

Title: Chicago Tribute Review of First Chicago Concert
Post by: walktall2010 on February 20, 2015, 12:23:13 am
Review: John Mellencamp at Chicago Theatre
By Bob Gendron
Chicago Tribune

John Mellencamp has made a career out of singing songs populated by common folks trying to make the best of difficult circumstances. Playing the first of a two-night stand Tuesday at a crowded Chicago Theatre, the vocalist embodied the will of those characters by gutting out a commendable performance despite suffering from a ravaged throat.

Early on in the110-minute set, the Indiana native admitted he conferred with his band in the afternoon and considered cancelling the show. He coughed between verses, received a steady diet of what appeared to be lozenges and sang in a grainy, gruff rasp further coarsened by habitual cigarette smoking. While not ideal, the condition lent deeper gravitas to the working-class protagonists and hard-learned lessons in his narratives.

Now 63, Mellencamp moved beyond the mainstream years ago. Classic-rock radio may lead many to believe he now primarily trades in nostalgia, yet the vocalist quietly created some of his most vital music over the past decade on records steeped in roots fare and serious reflection. Even as his sound has matured, with the recent "Plain Spoken" album owing to stripped-down Americana, Mellencamp's connection to heartland themes and Midwestern surroundings remains unchanged.

Splitting duties between observer and participant, and punching his right fist in the air, Mellencamp chronicled unsettling states of affairs. Newer tunes, such as the rough-and-tumble "Lawless Times" and country-folk "Troubled Man," confronted issues of trust and failure with the same dark intensity as "Rain on the Scarecrow." Tests of faith and sorrow informed a mournful "The Isolation of Mister," and a slide-blues cover of Robert Johnson's "Stones In My Passway," which announced its resilience by way of a boogie beat.

Indeed, for all the catastrophe and mortality orbiting his work, the vocalist/guitarist not only gave reasons for hope he found contentment by taking a long-view perspective. Biting off the leading edges of notes on a defiant "If I Die Sudden" and sharing passed-on wisdom during an understated "Longest Days," Mellencamp channeled gospel grit by professing humble appreciation for what life offers.

Backed by a well-rehearsed sextet anchored by Chicagoan Miriam Sturm on violin, he took similar satisfaction from simple pleasures echoing in "Cherry Bomb" and "Small Town." Mellencamp stumbled only on pair of songs from the "Ghost Brothers of Darkland County" musical. Featuring opener Carlene Carter on vocals, the numbers felt forced and stiff. By contrast, a solo rendition of "Jack & Diane" that graduated into an audience sing-a-long relayed his implicit suggestions to still live fully, especially after innocence and youth fade away.