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Author Topic: SoundSpike Review  (Read 8350 times)
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« on: February 07, 2011, 11:55:17 pm »

Concert: John Mellencamp in Waterbury, CT
Story by John Voket
SoundSpike Contributor

On his new and rootsy "No Better Than This Tour," John Mellencamp seems to channel the shared mid-1950s Midwestern experience of discovering music across crackly far-flung AM broadcasts played through the dusty dashboard speakers of an International pick-up, and brought magically alive during summer night dances at the town bandstand.

And the sold-out crowd smack in the middle of a quintessential New England mill town was feeling that plain-talking, corn-fed musical magic as the Rock & Roll Hall of Famer pulled into Waterbury, CT's Palace Theater Friday night (2/4).

The show mixed select and re-worked hits with a heavy sampling from Mellencamp's new projects, performed by him and an exceptional backing ensemble that included Michael Wanchic (guitar), Andy York (guitar), Miriam Sturm (violin), John Gunnell (electric and upright bass), Dane Clark (drums) and Troye Kinnett (accordion/keyboards).

Fans coming to the show to hear the radio anthems of their youth may have been a little upset about some of the reconstituted material, particularly on numbers like "Jack & Diane," which was transformed from a hook-laden rocker into a light and breezy country swing ditty. "Pink Houses" was another tune that was a little hard to listen to in its new country-fried format.

But others -- like "Jackie Brown" delivered solo, a spectacular "Check It Out" and "Small Town" featuring Mellencamp and Sturm -- were close enough to their original spirit and style that nobody could stay angry for very long.

In between, Mellencamp chatted with the audience, doing a few lead-ins that touched upon personal experiences -- including an involved story about spending time with his dying grandmother -- that led into the affecting "Longest Days."

He also related how he met a passerby outside the theater earlier that day who commented on how much the artist looked like John Mellencamp, "except a lot older...." But the apparent slight didn't stop Mellencamp from obliging the fan's request, and he performed a shortened "Cherry Bomb" a capella, after looking across the crowd saying, "I hope you're in here somewhere."

Opening with a bouncy, twangy "Authority Song," Mellencamp emerged in a sharp gray suit and spent the rest of the two-hour-plus set depending more on the shuffling of musicians to keep things visually interesting than on any fancy staging. The lighting was predominantly low and shadowy, and the tour's sparse set was anchored by a huge antebellum mural that hung along the rear wall of the vintage theater.

To go along with the moody lighting, Mellencamp dealt out a handful of songs throughout the show that showcased some pretty dark subject matter, including "Death Letter," "John Cockers," and "If I Die Sudden." Meanwhile, the upbeat, classic country treatments on "No One Cares About Me," and "Right Behind Me," felt authentic and perfectly suited to the lyrics.
The most self-effacing moment of the night came as Mellencamp changed a line in "Small Town," to say: "...married a bunch of girls, brought 'em back to this small town, startin' to think the problem is me.../" This was the only passing reference to the fact that he was in the process of divorcing from his third wife, Elaine Irwin.

The balance of the show also featured a few rock star turns. "The West End" ranted with crunchy guitars, choppy fiddle and Mellencamp getting down and dirty with his most gravelly vocals. And the anger of "Rain on the Scarecrow" was still palpable after all the years and all the performances, proving that Mellencamp still shoulders the pain of so many American farmers whose loss of their farms and livelihoods still echoed through the verses of this unlikely hit.

Not wasting any time as the end of the show came too quickly, Mellencamp and the band shelved the routine of walking off before returning for an encore, instead just taking a moment to thank the audience before wrapping up with "ROCK in the USA," dropping "She's So Tough," which was his closing number during previous shows.

The concert differed from many in that the tour's opening act is a documentary film by Kurt Markus, entitled "It's About You." Shot on Super8 film over the course of last year's Bob Dylan-John Mellencamp-Willie Nelson tour of minor league baseball stadiums, it chronicles the creation of "No Better Than This," while serving as a cinematic think piece on the state of the country at the end of the first decade of the 21st century, according to an advance.
So if you want to check out the film before the show, take note of the extra early start times for most of the stops on the rest of Mellencamp's "No Better Than This" tour, which continues through a May 1 stop at the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival.
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