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Author Topic: The Journal Star: John Mellencamp and band back for first Lied show  (Read 1802 times)
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« on: October 28, 2016, 07:55:51 am »

Mike Wanchic will never forget a show he played in Lincoln.

The longtime guitarist with John Mellencamp, Wanchic played Farm Aid III at Memorial Stadium in 1987, a relatively routine appearance for the band of one of Farm Aid’s founders.

But on that September day in Lincoln, Mellencamp’s band also backed up Lou Reed. The short set included the Velvet Underground classic “Sweet Jane,” and, of course, Reed’s only hit, “Walk on the Wild Side.”

“I never really thought I’d be standing in front of, what does that place hold -- at least 60,000 -- playing a song about a transvestite in front of a bunch of farmers,” Wanchic said. “That was really fun.”

Wanchic and Mellencamp will be back Tuesday in Lincoln, playing at least their fourth venue here. This time, it's the Lied Center for Performing Arts.

That’s a far cry from the stadium, Haymarket Park and Pershing Auditorium. But it’s the kind of venue they’ve played more than 100 times on the “Plain Spoken” tour.

Concert halls aren’t usually associated with rock shows, but Wanchic said they’ve proven to be a perfect fit to showcase Mellencamp’s four decades of music.

“I think the whole point is trying to match a vibe we’re trying to create on stage with the room,” he said. "There’s such a treasure trove of material when you’ve done 20-some albums that you can choose from. The name of the game anymore is music and art put together. That’s the whole concept of the tour.”

And, Wanchic acknowledged, the people who come to see Mellencamp these days are often older, many of them having followed him since the 1970s and '80s.

“You want to respect your audience and not put them under a tin roof in August when it’s 150 degrees,” he said. “I’ve been there too many times.”

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But the primary reason concert halls fit this tour is musical, as Mellencamp and the band mine their catalog for some lesser heard songs, like “Lawless Times,” “Minutes to Mystery” and “Isolation of Mister,” to go along with the hits.

“There are some really cool tunes we want to play,” Wanchic said. ”You need to pay respect to every album on some level because there are memories and meaning attached to each one. I can remember hearing The Doors’ 'Light My Fire' when I was a kid in Florida walking on the boardwalk with my brother, the first time I looked at girls. You have to respect that.

"And you have to respect the hits. When Neil Young plays, I want to hear 'Old Man’ along with his new material. He did it by himself at Farm Aid. It was great.”

Wanchic, who has been with Mellencamp for 40 years, says the band unintentionally created what’s been tagged as “Heartland rock” over the course of about a decade.

“If you take it all the way back to ‘82, we kind of found our voice,” he said. “We were young, we were rockers and we were passionate about it. At the time we had two guitar players, a drummer and John, no bass player. We decided we’d make this record, just stripped down with big guitars and drums. That was ‘American Fool.' We suddenly went from fool to cool.

“When it came up to ‘Scarecrow' (in 1985), we’d used up that concept. We decided to expand and started exploring Appalachian music, country music. I brought mandolin and dobro. We hired a violin player. That’s how we came up with that Heartland sound.”

Since then, the band has largely worked inside those confines, rolling gospel and soul with the country and Appalachian sounds mixed into rock ‘n’ roll and definitely not changing to keep up with the pop of the times.

“We’re not smart enough to do that,” Wanchic said. “There’s a beauty in that. That’s what it’s all based on. John’s a real songwriter, he’s coming up with real songs with real themes and real lyrics. You have to match the music with the song.

“That’s how records should be made, not put together from a beat and going backward. I understand pop records and how they’re made and why they’re made that way. But whatever you put on a track needs to enable the lyric and the melody. That’s our concept, and we’ve lived and died by it.”
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