Say, Yeah, Yeah, Yeah… Songs Do Make A Difference.

…That’s when a sport was a sport

And groovin’ was groovin’

And dancin’ meant everything

We were young and we were improvin’…

And John Mellencamp has improved with age.

The tickets were free (thank you, Facebook!) and we were sitting in the Grand Tier, or first balcony. There are no bad seats at Richmond’s Landmark Theater. We were grateful for any seats. Those with seats in the Pit paid $245 for the privilege. So, yeah, free was beyond good. And my amazing staff juggled meetings, students, and phone calls so I could leave early and attend. Have I mentioned that I have the most amazing staff in the world? Well, I do.

Anyway, John Mellencamp has improved with age.

A lot.

And he wanted his audience to know this wasn’t one of those walk-down-memory-lane tours; he is still actively writing and recording—new and different music. There was a video/movie that opened the show and lasted just over an hour. It showcased the new music—from the new album. Which I must own—6 months ago! I got what he was doing. I understood; and once I did, I was with him, he didn’t need to sell me the new music. The movie went too long and the crowd (not sold out!?!) began to get restless.

One couple actually collected their coats and left.

And then there was intermission. This was a Hurt So Good sort of crowd – angsty (albeit older) – longing for those young boy (girl?) days. People began to mumble, Intermission? What the hell? This better be worth it

I confess, I mumbled.

Twenty minutes later, John Cougar Mellancamp took the stage. And by that I mean, three seconds into his first song he owned the stage and the audience. There has always been something primal in his performances. Tribal. American. The percussionist brought 2500 hearts into sync…pounding as one…

Well, I fight authority, authority always wins…

And he was the authority. For the next two and one half hours, the 59-year-old Mellencamp only left the stage twice. Once because his guitar snapped a string and the Roadie apparently didn’t get it back to him quickly enough. And the second time probably for a smoke. His fiddle and accordion player did an instrumental interlude.

A master showman, Mellencamp mixed the old and new seamlessly. The cleverness of the film showed itself as every song had an air of familiarity and the crowd swayed and, at least, hummed along to No One Cares About Me, Easter Eve, and my personal favorite, Save Some Time to Dream. He went from his new work (which is reminiscent of Bruce Springsteen’s Seeger Sessions) to the classics (Authority, Check It Out, Cherry Bomb). It was powerful. He, tactfully, avoided his liberal politics. He did make one comment about how the Constitution states that the purpose of government was to provide for common defense and promote the general welfare of the people. It was a paraphrase, but apt before he sang Jackie Brown. The crowd’s reaction was mostly mute as it struggled to interpret exactly what he was saying… Their silence spoke volumes about local politics and it wasn’t mentioned again. Except, of course, in the under-current—pulse—of every song he sang. 

He chided the crowd to please, please, be patient. To listen to his new work, to be open to the experience, and know the classics would be played. There were a few rude folks; the drunk in front of me who hooted a lot and sounded like a moose in heat. He eventually stumbled out and got lost. He spent most of the last set wandering up and down the aisle looking for his buddy (who was nodding in front of us and unable to alert him to come and sit). During one ballad, folks began to shout for the oldies and one booming voice shouted, just grow up! I smiled as a hush filled the room.

Patience was rewarded. John Cougar (he’ll always be John Cougar to me) closed the show with a set of classics that hadn’t been peppered through the show: Jack & Diane, Pink Houses, Rain on the Scarecrow, What if I Came Knocking, Paper in Fire, R.O.C.K in the USA…

The show was so powerful, that we were on Main St., on our way home, before we realized that he hadn’t sung Lonely Ol’ Night or Hurt So Good.

And we hadn’t missed them!

He bent the crowd to his will and by the end we all believed that perhaps, as my favorite piece of the night suggested, if we all saved some time to dream then his dream could save us all…

Well done Mr. Mellencamp.

Word Count: 770


2 thoughts on “Say, Yeah, Yeah, Yeah… Songs Do Make A Difference.

  1. Thank you Mel. I loved your detail and reaction to the show. I figured it was going to be more like the “Seeger Sessions” than what he’s done in the past, simply because they’ve been playing him on my favorite station here in Boston, WUMB.

    I love that these major rock-n-rollers have taken a journey into the past, to look at the roots of the music they have been playing all these years. It allows them to grow as artists, all the while, we, as listeners and observers are allowed to learn and grow as well.

    A musician I know out of Detroit named Robert Jones is an amazing man. He’s a Baptist minister, but he’s also a masterful blues musician. In his work in his community, he goes around to the community centers, jailhouses, etc. and he performs for the kids and young adults who will listen to him. One of the best things he does is where he begins with playing old “folk” music from Africa, songs that came over here with the slaves, and morphs the music through the ages into Gospel, Blues, Motown, Funk and finally into Rap. As he makes this transition musically, he grabs you in a way that leaves the audience breathless. It is truly astounding to see and hear. It is an experience!

    It sounds like last night was an experience. Again, thank you for the telling of the story. I’m doubley (is this a word?) sorry I missed his show in Lowell. I was looking at his schedule and it puts him in New Orleans in late April. Wouldn’t it be fun to go there and see him? Just dreaming, but what a great trip that would be.

    And he played “Check It Out”. I was singing it all day yesterday.

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