(DTE Energy Theatre, Clarkston, MI - July 18th, 2008)
Throughout his career, John Mellencamp has had to fight, whether it was for the right to record under his own name or for respect as an artist. Of course, he never made it easy on himself. Mellencamp began his career in the late '70s as a Bruce Springsteen clone called Johnny Cougar. As his career progressed, his music became more distinctive, developing into a Stonesy blend of hard rock and folk-rock.
Indeed his musical development coincided with his growth in popularity and tonight, in front of a sold-out out open air crowd he brought his 23rd album 'Life Death Love and Freedom' to their ears - along with some classics, of course.
Taking to the stage behind his group of assembled musicians, Mellencamp wastes no time. With a sharp backdrop that showed a combination of old video footage and images of American life he waits for the one minute standing ovation to cease before opening with 'Pink Houses.' The theme and tone of Americana was off and running and featuring a whole host of lyrical topics - such as family, farming, community, race, politics and more - he continued on in with a rousing 'Paper and Fire,' 'I'm On My Way' and a bathed-in-purple lit set for 'My Sweet Love.'
Dressed smartly in a black vest, black pants, black shoes and a powder blue shirt, Mellencamp then gives us a subtle intro to 'Check It Out' before announcing to the crowd that he'd driven "700 miles to be here tonight" and bringing us 'Worn Out Inside.' "I just released my 23rd album," he tells the crowd, to a warm round of applause. "Do you think Jesus takes emergency prayers? Like when you're throwing up in the commode and saying you won't ever drink any more if he makes it stop?" As the laughter dies away he sings 'A Ride Back Home.'
And as the band leaves the stage and Mellencamp is stood all alone under a bright white spot, his guitar his only musical companion, he takes the moment to sing the chorus from 'Young Without Lovers' before stopping to say: "Ain't that the shits! To be young without lovers and old without friends." Asking the crowd to join in on the chorus they come in weak first time around: "Guys, what is this, 8th Grade?! You can do better than that." They do the second time around.
'Small Town' is next, compete with a cranked up guitar solo and a wonderful ending brought to the fore by both the accordion and the violin. Indeed, they both start off the next song 'Rain on The Scarecrow' - the blood red setting very, very poignant - and follow it with 'Peaceful World' and 'If I Die Sudden.' "Thank you very much," he says at tails end, his hands clasped together. He then tells a story of a young 14 year-old Mellencamp singing soul tunes - such as 'My Girl' - in bars back in the day and how badly his young black singing partner was treated. Finishing that story he sings the racially-toned 'Jena' from the new album.
'Human Wheels' is next followed by a fast-paced, heartfelt 'Crumblin' Down,' before a fantastic 'R.O.C.K. In The U.S.A.' and a heartily applauded 'Jack & Diane' bring the set to a close. Oh but the true highlight of the night? Well that was when Mellencamp asked fans during the aforementioned 'Jack & Diane' to all pull out their cell phones and make a call to a family member or a friend. He then patiently waited as everyone scrambled to find their phones, dial their numbers and hold them up to him on stage. Then, once people were ready he said a little message to them all out there in "cell phone land" and got them all singing in unison the chorus once more!
Coming back out for the encore with 'Authority Song' the crowd were still there, although the weather having turned to thunderstorms and heavy rain by now might have had them enjoying the last few bars of the show a little longer than usual - rather than getting soaked heading to their cars early to avoid the usual mad dash parking lot escape game!
Review by: Russell A. Trunk