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« on: June 07, 2015, 01:12:24 am »

John Mellencamp inspires childlike glee at the Riverside Theater
By Piet Levy of the Journal Sentinel

Farm Aid at Miller Park in 2010 had Willie Nelson and Neil Young and Dave Matthews and Kenny Chesney but hands down, John Mellencamp was the best entertainer on that day, enthusiastically playing hit after hit, accompanied by stadium singalongs, even a little dancing atop the Brewers dugout.

But a man can change a good deal in four years, and the Mellencamp who appeared on last year's "Plain Spoken" wasn't very happy company. "Never made love with my love in it," Mellencamp sang with tattered voice on "The Isolation of Mister," in which he also professes he never wanted friends.

Many of the other "Spoken" songs are just as dour. It's not like Mellencamp's been an inherently happy musician, and the latest album isn't awful by any means. But stripped of any and all rock excesses, Mellencamp's misery was more plainly visible.

Mellencamp sang "Mister" Friday at a near-capacity Riverside Theater and, not surprisingly, he isolated some in the crowd. There was also an inexplicable, and frankly embarrassing, moment when a swell of crowd banter erupted at the start of an acoustic version of "Lost Highways" mere moments after Mellencamp shared a touching story about his grandmother before she passed away.

He looked annoyed when that happened and was clearly bothered by a couple of loud drunken women whom he gently roasted a few times Friday. But the crowd was enthralled otherwise, and Mellencamp put plenty of heart in his heartland rock songs, and even offered inspiration throughout the two-hour show.

He stayed James Dean-cool Friday with his squinty eyes and mellow swagger, chewing his gum and slyly brushing his hand through his floppy mane of hair. Fans, though, acted like giddy teenagers, trying to "hold on to 16" as long as they could, as Mellencamp famously suggested on "Jack & Diane."

During "Tear This Cabin Down" a breather track sung with opener Carlene Carter, from Mellencamp's Stephen King-penned musical "Ghost Brothers of Darkland County" a couple even danced down the center aisle, the woman sporting a hockey jersey with the name "Mellencamp" on the back. And the audience was so excited to get to the chorus during an acoustic rendition of "Jack & Diane" that it skipped over the second verse.

When the night's set list veered into more unexpected territory, Mellencamp and his six-piece band made a little extra effort to keep the crowd engaged. "Plain Spoken" track "Troubled Man" fared far better than "Isolation," with Dane Clark's booming drums and Troye Kinnet's warm accordion. For the Robert Johnson cover "Stones in My Passway," Mellencamp channeled David Byrne with a quirky little interpretive dance at the start, then popped the collar on his sports jacket, and tried to match guitarist Andy York's blues-rock smolder with a grand, voice-belting finish.

And performing alone with Kinnet's saloon-ready piano for "The Full Catastrophe," Mellencamp rolled up his sleeves and took drags of a cigarette, singing with the raspy gravitas and enigmatic allure Bob Dylan displayed in the same room a few weeks back.

After "Catastrophe," Mellencamp walked offstage to let Kinnet and fiddle player Miriam Sturm run through a wordless medley of "Jerry," "Just Another Day" and "I Need a Lover." Then he re-emerged for a nonstop string of seven hits, including "Rain on the Scarecrow," "Paper in Fire" and "Pink Houses." Mellencamp let the crowd carry half of the choruses, but he finally lost his composure with a dynamic drum solo during "Crumblin' Down," and slipped in a little "Land of 1000 Dances," a song he's sung since he was 14, at the end of "Authority Song."

Even with just 2,000 people, the Riverside was just as loud and electric Friday as Miller Park at that Farm Aid set five years back.

"I was 27 years old when I wrote this song," the 62-year-old Mellencamp said in the middle of "Authority." "And I still feel the same way tonight."

Judging by the childlike glee of the crowd, he wasn't the only one.


■ "When we're brought into this world, they find it fit to give each and every one of us a dream....When a guy gets to be my age, he realizes that just having the dream was success enough."

■ "The only criticism you should listen to is the criticism you give yourself. It doesn't matter what they say, it only matters what you think."

■ "We are all great warriors in this world."


1. "Lawless Times"

2. "Troubled Man"

3. "Minutes to Memories"

4. "Small Town"

5. "Stones in my Passway" (Robert Johnson cover)

6. "Human Wheels"

7. "The Isolation of Mister"

8. "Check It Out"

9. "Longest Days" (acoustic)

10. "Jack & Diane" (acoustic solo)

11. "The Full Catastrophe" (piano accompaniment)

12. "Away From This World" (from "Ghost Brothers of Darkland County," featuring Carlene Carter)

13. "Tear This Cabin Down" (from "County," featuring Carter)

14. "Jerry"/"Just Another Day"/"I Need a Lover" (violin and accordion medley)

15. "Rain on the Scarecrow"

16. "Paper in Fire"

17. "If I Die Sudden"

18."Crumblin' Down"

19. "Authority Song" (with "Land of 1000 Dances")

20. "Pink Houses"

21. "Cherry Bomb"

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