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Mellencamp delivers legendary hits

Laura Miller | Thursday, April 20, 2006

There is one word that comes to mind when seeing John Mellencamp saunter onstage – legendary. With his moppy silver locks and small town persona, Mellencamp delivered a performance at the Joyce Center that was both satisfying and fun.

The evening began with the up and coming Little Big Town, a band hailed as country’s next big thing. While the band has not yet gained the finesse of Mellencamp’s long time stage show, it put on a pleasing and cheerful performance. Little Big Town has the talent – it just needs to work out the logistics of lighting, wardrobe and dance moves in order to really become a force on the tour circuit.

Mellencamp and his group obviously had the experience that Little Big Town lacked. The lighting for the performance was fabulous. Pure colors and clean spotlights allowed for a clear visual organization of a jam-packed stage.

Some of the highlights of the show included classics such as “Hurts So Good” and “Jack and Diane.” Mellencamp also got the audience moving with his renditions of radio favorites “Pink Houses” and “Authority Song.”

Despite the overwhelming quantity of music, the sound was well balanced. The diversity of instruments was astounding. Every percussion instrument ever seen in any grade school across the country was on the stage – maracas, tambourines, and anything else imaginable. Also included in the entourage were the traditional variety of guitars and drums, as well as a cello, accordion, harmonica, keyboard, fiddle and conga drums. The band was a nice mix of old and new. There were some sounds that were unique from the original recordings and a few younger faces on the stage, but the music remained consistent with the style for which Mellencamp has become famous.

It is no mystery why Mellencamp has been successful for such a long period of time. Not only are his songs timeless, but his stage presence is also phenomenal. He seems to enjoy interacting both with the audience and his band. Confidence still oozes from his 55-year-old pores. Because he looked like he was having a great time, his audience did too. He was not bashful about relinquishing center stage to members of his band, creating a karaoke party atmosphere that was essential to keeping the stage show lively and engaging.

There is, however, a line that all aging performers flirt with. How far is too far? What looks like an old person trying to look young versus just a cool old person? While Mellencamp looks good for his age, it doesn’t give him license to act like a 16-year-old. The shirt showed just a bit too much chest, the rolled-up sleeves a little too much arm, and the dance moves – well, some of those haven’t been seen since the days of leisure suits. Despite his (sometimes) questionable dancing, Mellencamp’s age has served him well in developing a meaningful performance. Throughout the evening, he brought up issues such as the living wage, the disappearance of small farming communities and poverty. All of these themes were well connected in his songs, and he was careful to coordinate his movements to the themes he wanted to accentuate.

“Just take a second to dream,” Mellencamp told his audience at the end of his performance. Passing on the sage words of his father – who was in attendance Tuesday night – Mellencamp reminded his audience to make time for fun and not to let life pass by. Obviously, Mellencamp has taken his father’s advice to heart. After seeing his show, it’s safe to say the audience will be heeding the advice as well.