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« on: April 16, 2015, 06:55:10 am »

Last Best Show: John Mellencamp at the Wang
By Bill Brotherton

John Mellencamp sure can bring you back to the good old times.

Wednesday night at the Wang Theatre, Mellencamp, 63, started singing a little ditty about Jack and Diane. All of a sudden it was 1982 again, and a bunch of us were relaxing on the deck of Danny Dill's summer house (it was little but it wasn't pink) on Cape Cod. The young lady I would eventually marry and I had mixed up a big batch of frozen rum and orange sherbet cocktails and life was good. Just a bunch of American kids doin' the best they can, and singing their lungs out when "Jack and Diane" exploded out of the boombox.

Last night Mellencamp performed the song solo acoustic and the near capacity crowd roared out the lyrics. The heartland rocker was more than happy to let the audience do the heavy lifting; he kept his trap shut while the fans sang, speaking only when he gently scolded the crowd for messing up the words.

This was just one of many highlights during a 1 hour, 50 minute show that brilliantly mixed old hits with new songs, blues covers with theatrical excursions. It was sensational.  Mellencamp is one of those rare artists that every music fan should experience in concert at least one in their lifetime.

The Rock and Roll Hall of Famer started out with two songs from his most recent album "Plain Spoken." A litany of society's ills peppered the opener "Lawless Times," a bluesy rocker that jump-started the night in fine fashion. "Troubled Man" was a warts-and-all look at a flawed human, looking back at life's highs and lows. A rootsy, bluesy version of Robert Johnson's "Stones in My Passway" was Mellencamp at his most naked, spitting out the words as if he was at the crossroads with the song's writer, pleading for his soul.

Mellencamp, whose voice is more deep and raspy than ever, sort of like Dylan or Waits on a good night,  chewed gum (Nicorette?) throughout the show. Not sure if he smokes, but he and his band were smokin'. Mellencamp has assembled a sensational band, led by longtime guitarist Andy York, and they were immense all night.

Accordion and violin, by Troye Kinnett and Mariam Sturm, fueled a rockin' "Small Town," a heart-thumping "Human Wheels" and a ferocious "Check it Out." The duo performed a medley of classic Americana songs as the intro to "Rain on the Scarecrow," a devastating look at the plight of America's farmers that planted the seed for the Farm Aid concerts founded by Mellencamp and others. It is the best song he's ever written, a true American classic.

Mid-set surprises included a mighty Brecht-like "The Full Catastrophy," which found Mellencamp in full Tom Waits mode, delivering his best vocal of the night. Carlene Carter, who opened the night with an excellent too-short set, shared vocals on a oouple of songs from "Ghost Brothers of Darkland," the theatrical musical Mellencamp co-wrote with novelist Stephen King. Carter stole the show with her vocal on "Tear This Cabin Down," a muscular bluesy rocker that packed more of a punch in this setting than it did during the play's one-night showcase at the Colonial Theatre last September.

And how's this for a closing salvo: "Paper in Fire," "Crumblin' Down," a thrilling"Authority Song" that segued into "Land of 1000 Dances," "Pink Houses" and "Cherry Bomb"?

No encore, though. No "Hurt So Good" or "R.O.C.K in the U.S.A." No matter. This was a great show, a concert for grownups who could appreciate Mellencamp's off-kilter risks and enjoy the hit-laden trip back to their younger days.

Come back soon, John. Please.
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