Okee dokee folks… On June 11, the Providence Performing Arts Center hosted a stop of the John Mellencamp Live and In Person 2023 tour.
I first saw John COUGAR about 44 years ago as an opening act for Heart. Back then I was not impressed and didn’t care much for the pompous performance of this relatively new artist. Fast forward to today and John Cougar is now John Mellencamp, a Rock and Roll Hall of Famer, one of the heavyweights behind Farm Aid and has become a sort of Midwestern Bruce Springsteen and a legend in his own right. I have now seen him in concert at least a half dozen times.
I didn’t start taking him seriously until the mid 80s when the Scarecrow album was released and he joined forces with Willie Nelson and Neil Young for the Farm Aid concerts. I began to appreciate songs like “Minutes To Memories,” “Pink Houses” and some of his earlier material. He began to grow on me as a songwriter and I started to enjoy his newer songs such as “Cherry Bomb” and “Paper In Fire.” I now look at him as a tried and true Rock and Roll legend instead of the pompous performer I first saw. He proved his legend status to me once again at PPAC last night.
When I arrived at PPAC the songs of Burl Ives were playing in the auditorium. A movie screen was hanging across the stage and you could see a couple of mannequins and red police lights. I wasn’t sure what all this was for but I learned that his opener was a film montage of Turner Classic Movies (TCM) with James Dean, Marlon Brando, Elizabeth Taylor and others. At the finish of the film the red lights flashed and sirens sounded while the screen rose to expose a full band already in play. Large movie lights and more mannequins (TCM references) were also revealed.
Mellencamp came right out of the gate rocking hard with “John Cockers.” Hit after hit followed with ”Paper in Fire,” “Minutes to Memories,” “Small Town,” “Human Wheels,” Jackie Brown,” and “Check It Out.” He donned an acoustic guitar, the band left the stage and he took to telling stories and playing solo. His first tale was of a homeless girl that he tried to help and he wrote a song about it called, “The Eyes of Portland.” He continued by talking about his 100 year old grandmother and an experience with her at the end of her life. This was the intro for “Longest Days.” He finished up his solo bit with “Jack & Diane” that had the audience singing louder than Mellencamp and getting scolded a bit when they got the verses wrong. This part was very enjoyable aside from the fact the Mellencamp’s acoustic guitar playing was weak. His storytelling continued when he imparted how he became friends with actress Joanne Woodward after Paul Newman’s death. She recorded a few songs of Mellencamp’s as poetry and he had that audio played (“The Real Life”) with the live accompaniment of violin and accordion.
He jumped back into rocking with “Rain On The Scarecrow,” “Lonely Ol’ Night” and others. He played a version of “Crumblin’ Down” that morphed into “Gloria.” “Pink Houses” followed with a short violin solo and a guest singer pulled from the audience. He introduced his band and when he got to his long time guitar player, Mike Wanchic, he mentioned that he had asked him how they should end the show. Wanchic had told him that they should finish with something about old times. Mellencamp shouted, “That’s the first fucking good idea he’s had in 50 years!” They then closed out the set with “Cherry Bomb.” The crowd, who were already on their feet and had been on and off throughout the night (grrr!), demanded more. One of his earlier break-out hits, “Hurts So Good” wrapped the night. Folks around me were singing at the top of their lungs. Mellencamp’s violinist, Lisa Ruth Germano sang a bit as Mellencamp held the microphone. When she finished he grabbed her face and planted a kiss firmly on her lips. Mellencamp rocked to the last second of the show and finished with a little leap.
Mellencamp has a stellar band and the two hour show was filled with crowd pleasers from start to finish. Hopefully Mellencamp will be around as long as his father and grandmother, though because of his 60 year cigarette addiction he doesn’t think he will. Either way I hope Mellencamp continues to record and perform timeless and poignant songs as long as he can.
Follow my column and podcasts for more events as they are added over the summer! Stay cool. That’s it for now. Don’t forget you can listen to my podcasts at: motifri.com/rootsreportpodcast. You can also find my concert photographs (including John Mellencamp at PPAC) at motifri.com/fuzeksfotos. Thanks for reading and listening. johnfuzek.com