ALL ROCK AND ALL AMERICAN
For John Mellencamp to get the kind of respect he’s earned √≥ outside his fan base √≥ he should lie down in a coffin and die.
Music’s hipsters who move and shake the charts don’t esteem a lifetime of achievement, or even a kick-ass concert like the one Mellencamp nailed Friday at Jones Beach √≥ they respect death.
File it under you don’t know what ya got ’til it’s gone. Just ask Luther Vandross whose untimely death last week became the ultimate career move. Suddenly everyone and their brother loved Luther again.
But at Mellencamp’s concert, the guy didn’t die √≥ he killed with a program that showcased him as a songwriter and performer.
At this rainy-night open-air show, the 53-year-old rocker could have held back, rested on his laurels and stayed dry with a short, low-key set.
But obviously jazzed about playing Jones Beach for the first time in four years, Mellencamp performed like he wanted to impress. He displayed his durability with a high-test performance that cranked through his entire career, chronicling his evolution from Cougar to man.
Mellencamp seamlessly mixed songs about alienated youth like “Jack and Diane” with unabashed devotionals including “Lonely Ol’ Night.”
The Long Island audience embraced his defiant “Authority Song” and his celebration of community life, “Small Town.” “Paper in Fire” the midshow highlight sizzled in an electric/acoustic arrangement featuring a fiddled lead.
Then there were the songs with a musical conscience, such as “Rain on the Scarecrow.” On that one, Mellencamp supercharged the music by enlisting opening act John Fogerty to sit in with him. The two elegantly captured the song’s rage about how the small farmer is becoming an endangered species in America.
While most of the songs were classics from Mellencamp’s songbook, one of the show’s other highpoints was the new tune “Walk Tall” off of his latest album, “Words And Music.” That one nicely blended the tune’s R&B swagger with rock poise.
That recent album and this show seem to be statements from Mellencamp painting a picture of both who he used to be and what he’s become. That notion was cemented with video clips of his highs and lows that covered his ’80s MTV golden-boy days to his becoming one of the elder statesmen of rock.
After the video segment, Mellencamp came back with a fire-in-the-belly greatest hits set. You might predict that “Pink Houses,” “R.O.C.K. in the U.S.A,” “Hurts So Good” and “Cherry Bomb” were played, but the music wasn’t predictable note-for-note copies of studio records. Instead, Mellencamp twisted and bent those old songs with honest roots rock inflections.
Chalk that appeal up to Mellencamp’s ability to forget he’s a star and project a regular-joe image that’s sarcasm- and irony-free.
If you don’t think Mellencamp exudes cool onstage, is no longer relevant and isn’t a national treasure who deserves to be in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, head to New Jersey on Saturday when he plays the PNC Bank Arts Center and have your attitude adjusted.
I still love his music!
ALL ROCK AND ALL AMERICAN