I can't quite figure out why it took me this long to see John Mellencamp live for the first time. Like so many other Americans around my age (that's 45 in a few days), I came to know John Cougar (at the time) from the earliest days of MTV. I vividly recall a road trip to my old hometown in Minnesota over the holidays of 1982, and seeing the "Jack & Diane" video on constant rotation at my friend's house, along with the other very limited number of music videos at the time. I fell in love with the song, and came to realize over the next few years - as John released hit after hit: "Pink Houses", "Small Town", "Crumbling' Down", "Authority Song" - that John's music would remain with me for life.
So for some reason, it took me 33 years (!) from the time I knew I loved his music to buy a ticket and go see him in concert. It was worth the wait.
With his sharply dressed, crack band in tow, John sauntered on stage last night at Comerica Theater in downtown Phoenix and launched right into two blues-based numbers from his latest album, Plain Spoken: "Lawless Times" and "Troubled Man". It was really something to see, with John and the band all dressed in black suits and a black dress for his long time violinist - and the floor lights lighting each of them individually... when John would finish the verse and chorus, he'd take a few steps back while at the same time the rest of the band would take a few steps forward to the front of the stage. It was simple but powerful choreography that shifted the focus to the players - a really cool idea that elicited fist pumps and goosebumps.
But naturally, the crowd really came alive during John's classic songs from the 80's: "Minutes to Memories", "Small Town", "Check It Out", "Rain On The Scarecrow", and of course his biggest hit, "Jack & Diane", which John performed solo on stage with his acoustic guitar. It was a playful, fun singalong version, with John teasing the crowd for skipping the "Suckin' on a chili dog" second verse and going right to the chorus. It was one of those intimate moments between performer and audience that you rarely experience - a shared experience with an old tune so tied into everyone's younger years; most everyone in the crowd thinking back to what they were doing 33 years ago as the song spent 4 straight weeks at #1 on the Billboard charts.
After a nice couple of songs from John's play, The Ghost Brothers of Darkland County (which opening act Carlene Carter came out to sing), and a short violin/ accordion interlude of John's tunes, the energy level went through the roof with old favorites 'Rain on the Scarecrow", "Paper In Fire", and especially the final four tunes of the evening: ""Crumbling' Down", "Authority Song", "Pink Houses" and "Cherry Bomb."
We weren't ready for it end, and my buddy and I were somewhat shocked when John walked offstage after "Cherry Bomb" and the house lights immediately came on. The crowd was so amped up and ready for more, and let's face it, how many headlining rock legend shows have you seen without an encore? It was an abrupt ending and somewhat of a buzz kill, as everyone wanted, needed, and expected more. That's my one "huh?" critique of an otherwise excellent evening.
When all was said and done, John Mellencamp delivered the goods. His voice still in fine form, with all those same moves you've seen in videos and performances over the years. It was a treat, and a major music bucket list item checked off my list.
July 29th, 2015
Comerica Theater, Phoenix, AZ
Minutes to Memories
Stones In My Passway
The Isolation of Mister
Check it Out
Jack & Diane (acoustic, solo)
The Full Catastrophe
Away From This World (Carlene Carter on vocals)
Tear This Cabin Down (CC and JM on vocals)
~ Accordion / Violin Interlude ~
Rain on the Scarecrow
Paper in Fire
If I Die Sudden