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Author Topic: Edmonton Sun Review  (Read 6557 times)
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« on: April 17, 2011, 11:48:38 pm »

Mellencamp the full meal deal

It’s official: John Mellencamp has become one of the central events in the great American experience — along with the Civil War, the invention of jazz and baseball.

That’s what it felt like after watching the Ken Burns-like film about John Mellencamp that opened the actual John Mellencamp performing at the Jubilee Auditorium on Saturday night.

Cowboy documentarian Kurt Markus really laid it on thick while following Mellencamp’s tour around America to record his latest, T-Bone Burnett-produced album, No Better Than This.

Between concert dates and sessions in historical places (Sun Records, the Texas hotel room where Robert Johnson once recorded, etc.), Markus offers gushing narration like this: “The people who make it in music are the rarest of the rare. They come from the world’s entire gene pool.”

Or this, when coming upon yet another dead downtown core: “The decay of America is original and massive in its scale.”

Mellencamp, of course, is painted as some kind of Americana superhero, the voice of the downtrodden, troubadour of the dispossessed heartland, basically Bruce Springsteen, Johnny Cash and Woody Guthrie all rolled into one.

Add Tom Waits for Saturday’s Edmonton show — for his already raspy rasp sure is getting deep (not to mention what is becoming some distinctively disruptive hair). Then again, he was sick.

This guy sure has come a long way from little ditties about Jack and Diane. He used to talk about puppy love. Now he talks about sins, the devil, Jesus, mortality, human compassion.

Yes, Mellencamp only writes big, important ditties now — which is why it was so cool how he threw the sold-out crowd a few bones from the old days.

Late in the show — after everything from straight-ahead rock to old-time country to Django-style jazz and much of it very meaningful — came Jack and Diane.

We thought he never did that in concert anymore. But there it was, the embarrassing old tune that launched his entire career, mangled, redone and polished up as a country two-step. Big fun.

There were lots of nuts from the past. Authority Song opened the show. Check It Out followed along in due course, heralding the entrance of violinist Miriam Sturm and accordionist Troye Kinnett, the combo of both which has added a distinctive sound to Mellencamp’s music for many years now.

He did Cherry Bomb with no accompaniment at all. And the band ripped it up — with the help of audience members — on R-O-C-K in the USA to the end the show. There would be no encore.

It was certainly clever of Mellencamp to screen a self-serving film about the new album he planned to play plenty of at the show. The captive audience at least knew what they were in for.

The new music is really swampy. You can really hear the T-Bone sound. The band channelled Johnny Cash with No One Cares About Me, went all Delta with a song called John Cockers, whose chorus goes “I ain’t got no friends.” Maybe a theme here.

Save Some Time to Dream, done solo and acoustic , was basically a list of fatherly advice: Prepare for failure, keep your mind open, accept your mistakes and “save some time to dream ’cause your dream might save us all.”

The audience heard at least one song twice, once in the film, once for real. One memorable number was called Don’t Need This Body, a down and dirty bloozer about getting old. The first line is “This getting older ain’t for cowards.”

There seemed to be a murmur of agreement in the crowd, especially when John pointed out that there’s nothing more dangerous than a “dangerous old man.”

No, there’s nothing more dangerous than a dangerous old man with a documentary crew following him around.

The show — and movie — repeats at the Jube tonight.

John Mellencamp

2,600 in the Jube

Americana superhero reveals swampy side with new music, and in film about new music

4 out of 5
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