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Author Topic: Boston Herald Lowell Review  (Read 6348 times)
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« on: February 05, 2011, 12:40:37 pm »

John Mellencamp harnesses roots rock

By Jim Sullivan
Saturday, February 5, 2011

John Mellencamp has ruled the sub-Springteen world of middlebrow, populist rock for two decades. Liberal sentiments and melodic music, cut with a bit of grit.

Lately Mellencamp, 59, has reinvented himself as a roots-rocking Americana artist. In fact, if you knew nothing of his history and were at the sold-out Lowell Memorial Auditorium on Thursday, you might have thought he was Ryan Adams’ older brother or Tom Waits’ younger one.

Which means if you wanted to “R.O.C.K. in the U.S.A.” it was both the right and wrong place to be.

Right: Because singer-guitarist Mellencamp and his backing sextet turned on the firepower about two-thirds of the way through the 140-minute set with “Rain on the Scarecrow,” “What If I Came Knocking,” “If I Die Sudden,” “Pink Houses” and, yes, the insanely catchy “R.O.C.K.” They encored with a great version of Mink DeVille’s punky r&b tune, “She’s So Tough.”

Wrong: Because the bulk of the show was dominated by alt-country songs from Mellencamp’s latest CD, “No Better Than This,” and similar catalog numbers such as “Deep Blue Heart,” “Walk Tall” and “Cherry Bomb.”

The opener, “Authority Song,” was done up rockabilly style. “Small Town” was solo acoustic. The mega-hit “Jack and Diane” was rejiggered as a country-swing tune. Violinist Miriam Sturm and accordionist Troye Kinnett were prominent, arguably more so than guitarists Andy York and Michael Wanchic. At times, Mellencamp and company seemed like a heartland Pogues.

Not all of this played well. The crowd often chattered through softer songs or unfamiliar reworkings. As he introduced “Longest Days,” Mellencamp busted one couple down front, sarcastically hoping he wasn’t interrupting them.

“People are talking,” he said. “It (messes) me up. I’m pretty stupid.”

That wasn’t the point, of course. He was annoyed they were yakking and they were likely annoyed by the monotonous tone of the music. Out in the lobby, some fans (ex-fans?) were brutal in their assessment.

“What a self-indulgent little (expletive)!” said one. “I paid $78. Play something I know!” griped another.

The Lowell date was the kickoff of the second leg of Mellencamp’s tour. The word is out: Mellencamp is not an arena-rock guy anymore.

Note, too, the smaller, 2,800-seat venue. He’s on a journey to be less commercial.

For anyone who missed it, Mellencamp filed for divorce last month from his wife, model Elaine Irwin. When he sang “No One Cares About Me,” you could only guess from where that came. Even if he’s now dating Meg Ryan.
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