Saturday, August 12, 2017
When John Mellencamp strikes the opening licks of a song, you know he's got you. He hits a musical nerve, opens a vein of nostalgia and salts it with irony, sarcasm and social commentary.
It is all on display during this summer's tour and on his exquisite new album with Carlene Carter, "Sad Clowns & Hillbillies."
He's put together a Show Band that is tighter than a tick and he marches it through his impressive hit parade with a precision that would make James Brown proud. He begins in a bluesy country style with Lawless Times that showcases his aged-to-mellow gravel road voice. The musical path wanders smoothly from Small Town to Robert Johnson's Stones in My Passway.
But the crowd goes crazy when he turns the bend into Check it Out (all we've learned about living) and Jack and Diane(oh yeah, life goes on, long after the thrill of livin' is gone), the latter as an acoustic take with an audience singalong.
From there, it was onto another dreamer's tale off the new album. Grandview is Jack's story plus forty as he woos his girl with promises of a brand new double-wide trailer:
We could slide it on in there, honey
We can chock those wheels real good
I want it sittin' nice and level
He showcased two other new songs, My Soul's Got Wings and Easy Target, both arranged with more of a rock tempo than the country sound on the CD, lest the fans get fidgety while waiting for their favorites.
They came next, after a beautiful piano and violin overture to Scarecrow: Paper in Fire, Crumbling Down, The Authority Song and Pink Houses (ain't that America... Cause the simple man, baby, pays the thrills, the bills and the pills that kill).
Mellencamp recently chain smoked his way through an interview with Jane Pauley on CBS in which he talked about reaching 65.
"I can see the finish line from here," he said. "I only have so many summers left and I intend not to waste them being old."
On stage he talked about how he and a long time band mate have decided to rest by only taking a lot of naps during the day. "I don't want the newspapers to say John Mellencamp died in his sleep."
Then he took us all back to those days
When a smoke was a smoke
And groovin' was groovin'
And dancin' meant everything
We we're young and we were improvin'
John Mellencamp, for one, still is--and still lighting musical fuses.