John Mellencamp mixes it up in Lowell

A review of John Mellencamp at the Lowell Memorial Auditorium on February 3, 2011

, Managing Editor

It’s surprising how the older a crowd is at a concert the more immature they can be. As John Mellencamp brought his new Americana act to the Lowell Memorial Auditorium, the classic rocker played 2+ hours worth of his country-blues fueled tunes off his critically acclaimed new release, Never Better Than This.  Yet, the beauty of Mellencamp’s performance went overlooked by a stubborn few who instead delivered constant and especially cringe-worthy cries for “Pink Houses”, “Jack and Diane” and other classics.

At one point, during Mellencamp’s intimate solo acoustic session, a fan was so loud and distracting that the singer gave him the mic saying, “Your story seems to be more important than mine so I’ll let you finish”. That may sound jerky and embarrassing in print but when you’re yelling at the front of the stage you certainly have it coming. Even more ridiculous was the fan’s response, in a fraudulent-sounding Boston accent, “Oh John, man, I was just saying how awesome you ahh dude!”.

In a recent interview with Rolling Stone, the 59 year-old hit-maker stated, “If you’re coming to hear the greatest hits, don’t even come”, but apparently some folks didn’t get the memo. The funny thing is, Mellencamp still ended up playing many of his biggest hits, even though the show was perfectly satisfying without them. “Jack and Diane” got a country-rock re-imagining as Miriam Sturm’s violin was the featured instrument rather than the usual distorted guitars. Show closer “R.O.C.K. in the U.S.A.” also included a taste of Americana thanks to the ingredients of organ and violin.

Although, some fans may have come to hear their favorite old tunes, it was two of the artist’s more recent songs that played out as the prettiest moments of the show. His song of life lessons, “Save Some Time to Dream”, off ‘Never Better felt even more inspiring after the singer spoke of his relationship with his father, and how he wrote the song for him. Mellencamp would wow again with his solo rendition of “Longest Days”, which he preceded with another charming story about lying next to his dying grandmother, who told him “life is short, even in its longest days” (the story that was shamefully interrupted by the fan up front).

Mellencamp’s many tales added to the folk-y, old timey Americana feel to the show. Before new track “Right Behind Me”, he performed like an old bluesman as he crafted a tale about making a bet with the devil that he couldn’t stand in place for a week. There would be no more “sin, hatred, or hypocrisy” if he could do it said the Devil, but “the prettiest girl in town walked by… and that’s why you’re all sinnin’ tonight”.

In the end, the Farm Aid-founding rocker played Saint to the “sinners” as he and his full band brought the people to their feet with a rocking showcase to cap the evening. The fans expressed their greatest joy as familiar hits like “Pink Houses” spawned sing alongs.

Mellencamp deserves plenty of credit for branching out and doing something different, even if its significance was lost on a disappointing number.

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