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« on: January 14, 2016, 08:01:07 am »

John Mellencamp rocks football gig on his own terms

By Ed Mastley

John Mellencamp and American Authors took two very different approaches to working the crowd at the AT&T Playoff Playlist Live!, a free outdoor series of concerts held in downtown Phoenix to celebrate the College Football Playoff national championship today in Glendale.

American Authors were eager to win as many fans as possible — and by any means necessary, blowing the dust off their crowd-pleasing cover of Florida Georgia Line’s inescapable “Cruise” after telling Sunday’s crowd “We’re gonna do a cover song and I want every single one of you guys singing along.”

And that was after playing to the football fans with “We’re gonna go to the game tomorrow and we’re pretty excited. But we’re conflicted. We don’t know what team to root for” as a set-up for a shouting match between the Alabama fans and Clemson fans.

They trotted out the rivalry again before closing their part of the concert with a 10-times-better song than “Cruise,” their triple-platinum breakthrough single, “Best Day of My Life,” lead singer Zac Barnett telling the crowd “Whoever sings the loudest is gonna win the game tomorrow.”

If Mellencamp even knew what teams were playing Monday, there was nothing in his set to indicate such knowledge.  No mention of football. Or college. Or sports. He did his thing — and did it well, leading a stage full of brilliant musicians in a set that touched on any number of his greatest hits but never felt like pandering.

That message was clear when he opened the show with the Dylanesque blues of “Lawless Times,” a scathing if frequently humorous indictment of these lawless times that closes “Plain Spoken,” his latest release.

Then, he reached back to “Scarecrow” for “Small Town,” giving the Top 10 hit a more bittersweet read than the original recording, even slowing it down and stopping on the line “That’s probably where they’ll bury me."

The third song was a Robert Johnson cover — the dobro-fueled “Stones in My Passway,” the same Johnson cover that opens the live album “Trouble No More Live at Town Hall.”

The concert did turn into something of a greatest hits show after that but even then it felt like Mellencamp was doing greatest hits on his terms. After leading his bandmates in a soulful “Check It Out,” he stood alone at center stage, an acoustic guitar in hand and said, “I’ve been doing this song for a lot of years. I don’t even know why I do this song anymore.”

It was “Jack and Diane,” performed without the payoff of a full-band treatment. The hit song turned into a massive singalong, of course, which led to an extremely entertaining moment when the fans jumped the gun and came in on the chorus too early.

“Whoa whoa whoa,” Mellencamp said, with a laugh. “That doesn’t come in now. There’s another verse before that.”

Like “Small Town,” the lyrics, especially “Life goes on long after the thrill of livin’ is gone,” were given a bittersweet read by the singer, who turned 64 last year.

After an instrumental interlude by violinist Miriam Sturm and accordion player Troye Kinnett, the concert returned to the hits with “Rain on the Scarecrow,” “Paper in Fire” and “Crumblin’ Down,” which emerged as a showcase for drummer Dane Clark, who more than earned the spotlight.

A raucous “Authority Song” was performed as a medley with “Land of 1,000 Dances.” And after an anthemic, crowd-pleasing version of “Pink Houses,” Mellencamp ended the concert with “Cherry Bomb,” a timeless rocker he wrote in the '80s while feeling nostalgic for his teenage years, the nostalgic nature of the lyrics made all the more poignant by the fact that it’s been nearly 30 years since “17 turned 35.”

It was the perfect ending, really, to a concert that did a brilliant job of underscoring just how much this veteran artist still has left to offer as a live performer.
« Last Edit: January 14, 2016, 08:04:19 am by walktall2010 » Logged
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