John Mellencamp Jones Hall April 3, 2011
See pics of a dapper-looking John Mellencamp on stage in our slideshow.
Don't call him Cougar.
John Mellencamp has been trying to live down that record label-foisted moniker for over 30 years, ditching it entirely in 1990 and making music much more in tune with his heartland roots ever since. He managed to drive what will hopefully be one of the last nails in the chaps and fishnets coffin containing the "Hurts So Good" era last night on the Houston stop for his "No Better Than This" tour.
It was a show that found the audience by turns puzzled, enthusiastic, and in one significant case, nauseous. But more on that later. By night's end, Mellencamp won the crowd over to his new, more folky material while still managing to satisfy those howling (literally) for the old stuff.
Backed by a formidable five-piece band that included longtime collaborators Miriam Sturm (violin) and Mike Wanchic (guitar), Mellencamp got the Jones Hall crowd on its feet early, opening the set with "Authority Song" from 1983's Uh-Huh. From that point, he "brought the room down a bit," as they say, spending the next hour or so drawing from his latest releases (No Better Than This and Life, Death, Love and Freedom) and what is arguably his best album, 1987's The Lonesome Jubilee.
The audience was...cordial, for the most part, during the first half of show. We wondered how full the show would have been if Mellencamp's previously published comments about how he's "done being a rock star" and how "he's not doing a greatest hits show" had been more widely publicized. To his credit, Mellencamp did a good job sprinkling in recognizable tunes with his newer, more roots-oriented stuff. Following up the likes of Son House's "Death Letter" and "The West End" with "Check it Out," or dropping a well-placed "Cherry Bomb" amongst the recent stuff.
But then, long-time Mellencamp fans know the guy has been skewing more towards Americana ever since Scarecrow, so the only people disappointed by last night's setlist were likely the small - and vocal - group who, like Homer Simpson bellowing for "Taking Care of Business" at a B.T.O. concert, just wanted to hear "Jack and Diane" over and over again.
Mellencamp was tolerant of the occasional outburst, assuring us, "We'll get to the 'rock and roll.'" True to his word, the final half of the two-hour set played pretty much like the greatest hits show he'd previously derided: "Small Town," "Rain on the Scarecrow," "Paper in Fire," and "Pink Houses" all came in rapid succession, bringing the crowd to their feet to stay.
Well, except for one. We wouldn't bring this up, because it doesn't really have any bearing on the show, except it happened right next to us. About three songs in, two exceedingly drunk women (who were clearly old enough to know better) took their seats next to us. They left within fifteen minutes, but not before the one sitting next to us ralphed on the floor. To her credit, we weren't even aware it had happened until they stumbled back out. An amusingly mortified Jones Hall usher and janitor cleaned up as best they could without disturbing those in the immediate vicinity (the ones who hadn't already fled for empty seats elsewhere, that is). As for us, after raising three kids, vomit is like any other household scent.
"Jack and Diane" was the only sop thrown to the American Fool crowd (no sign of "Hurts So Good" or "I Need a Lover"), which is a good thing, as far as we're concerned. For while his record sales will likely never return to late 80s numbers, Mellencamp is entering one of the most rewarding stages of his career. And last night's show may have helped kill the "Cougar" for good.
Personal Bias: Never a huge fan, but got interested in the late 80s. "Rain on the Scarecrow" is still a great, great song.
The Crowd: Business casual.
Overheard in the Crowd: "ROCK AND ROLL!"
Random Notebook Dump: "Rain on the scarecrow/Puke on the plow?"
No One Cares About Me
The West End
Check It Out
Save Some Time To Dream
Don't Need This Body
Right Behind Me
Jack and Diane
Rain on the Scarecrow
Paper in Fire
The Real Life
What If I Came Knocking?
If I Die Sudden
No Better Than This
R.O.C.K. in the U.S.A.