Recap: John Mellencamp at Comerica Theater in Phoenix

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I can’t quite figure out why it took me this long to see John Mellencamp live for the first time. Like so many other Americans around my age (that’s 45 in a few days), I came to know John Cougar (at the time) from the earliest days of MTV. I vividly recall a road trip to my old hometown in Minnesota over the holidays of 1982, and seeing the “Jack & Diane” video on constant rotation at my friend’s house, along with the other very limited number of music videos at the time. I fell in love with the song, and came to realize over the next few years – as John released hit after hit: “Pink Houses”, “Small Town”, “Crumbling’ Down”, “Authority Song” – that John’s music would remain with me for life.

So for some reason, it took me 33 years (!) from the time I knew I loved his music to buy a ticket and go see him in concert. It was worth the wait.

With his sharply dressed, crack band in tow, John sauntered on stage last night at Comerica Theater in downtown Phoenix and launched right into two blues-based numbers from his latest album, Plain Spoken: “Lawless Times” and “Troubled Man”. It was really something to see, with John and the band all dressed in black suits and a black dress for his long time violinist – and the floor lights lighting each of them individually… when John would finish the verse and chorus, he’d take a few steps back while at the same time the rest of the band would take a few steps forward to the front of the stage. It was simple but powerful choreography that shifted the focus to the players – a really cool idea that elicited fist pumps and goosebumps.

But naturally, the crowd really came alive during John’s classic songs from the 80’s: “Minutes to Memories”, “Small Town”, “Check It Out”, “Rain On The Scarecrow”, and of course his biggest hit, “Jack & Diane”, which John performed solo on stage with his acoustic guitar. It was a playful, fun singalong version, with John teasing the crowd for skipping the “Suckin’ on a chili dog” second verse and going right to the chorus. It was one of those intimate moments between performer and  audience that you rarely experience – a shared experience with an old tune so tied into everyone’s younger years; most everyone in the crowd thinking back to what they were doing 33 years ago as the song spent 4 straight weeks at #1 on the Billboard charts.

After a nice couple of songs from John’s play, The Ghost Brothers of Darkland County (which opening act Carlene Carter came out to sing), and a short violin/ accordion interlude of John’s tunes, the energy level went through the roof with old favorites ‘Rain on the Scarecrow”, “Paper In Fire”, and especially the final four tunes of the evening: “”Crumbling’ Down”, “Authority Song”, “Pink Houses” and “Cherry Bomb.”

We weren’t ready for it end, and my buddy and I were somewhat shocked when John walked offstage after “Cherry Bomb” and the house lights immediately came on. The crowd was so amped up and ready for more, and let’s face it, how many headlining rock legend shows have you seen without an encore? It was an abrupt ending and somewhat of a buzz kill, as everyone wanted, needed, and expected more.  That’s my one “huh?” critique of an otherwise excellent evening.

When all was said and done, John Mellencamp delivered the goods. His voice still in fine form, with all those same moves you’ve seen in videos and performances over the years. It was a treat, and a major music bucket list item checked off my list.

Set List
July 29th, 2015
Comerica Theater, Phoenix, AZ

Lawless Times
Troubled Man
Minutes to Memories
Small Town
Stones In My Passway
Human Wheels
The Isolation of Mister
Check it Out
Longest Days
Jack & Diane (acoustic, solo)
The Full Catastrophe
Away From This World (Carlene Carter on vocals)
Tear This Cabin Down (CC and JM on vocals)
~ Accordion / Violin Interlude ~
Rain on the Scarecrow
Paper in Fire
If I Die Sudden
Crumblin’ Down
Authority Song
Pink Houses
Cherry Bomb

In Appreciation of Mellencamp’s “Key West Intermezzo (I Saw You First)”


After hearing 1996’s “Key West Intermezzo (I Saw You First)” two or three times at random times over the last week or so – on my iTunes/Spotify shuffle, on SiriusXM – I realized that, to me, it’s the last great Mellencamp tune. Yeah, I know he’s had some quality stuff since – darker, bluesier, rootsier… some of it produced by T-Bone Burnett. But I’ve always favored the melodic, folk/pop-oriented sounds of Mr. Mellencamp – from “Ain’t Even Done With The Night” to “Tumblin’ Down” to “Jackie Brown” and a host of others (can’t forget the quirky Casio sounds of “Jackie O“, which he co-wrote with John Prine).

“Key West” is found on the album ‘Mr Happy Go Lucky‘, John’s first album after his heart attack scare in August of 1994 (at the age of 42). He pulled out all the stops and brought in DJ/dance producer Junior Vasquez to produce the album. There’s still the folk/pop, but with the loops and funkier feel – especially on “Key West.”  That’s soul-man extraordinaire Raphael Saadiq plucking the bass on the track too.

As for the video? Yep, that’s Matthew McConaughey (three years post-‘Dazed and Confused’). Outstanding tune. Wistful, pleading, horny, and funky. An ode to that pretty girl who’s just out of reach. The song hit #14 on the Billboard Hot 100 – John’s last Top 40 song (to date).

The Friday Five: May 28, 2010

Friday Five

Friday Five : ‘frī-(,)dā,-dē ‘fīv : On the sixth day of every week, I hit the shuffle button on my iTunes, then share the first five tracks and thought for each track. Sometimes there is a playlist involved, occasionally we’ll have a guest, but most of the time it’s just me. The rest is up to you, our friends and readers! Fire up your media player of choice and share the first five random track of your shuffle in the comments.

The Five:

“Hurts So Good” by John Mellencamp (from The Best That I Could Do 1978–1988, 1997)

Now there is nothing wrong with kicking the Friday Five off with a little kick in the ass. This is especially true when it comes to the particular brand of ass kicking that Mr. Mellencamp circa 1984 was dealing out. Despite having a kick ass video, I still associate this tune with the visual of Lori Singer and Sarah Jessica Parker getting down at the cowboy bar in Footloose.

“The Way You Make Me Feel” by Michael Jackson (from Bad, 1987)

Why anyone doubted that this man had a ton of game is beyond me. Case in point: “The Way You Make Me Feel,” which finds Jackson singing the praises of his lady friend’s physical attributes with that same bravado that I mentioned last week — the difference here being nearly 20 years.

“Without You” by The Doobie Brothers (from The Captain and Me, 1973)

While this soundly fits in the ass kicking, rock ‘n’ roll mood set by the first tune in the five; I’m more of a fan of the Michael McDonald chapter in the Doobies history. That said, this definitely kicks some ass.

“Werewolves of London” by Warren Zevon (from Excitable Boy, 1978)

I’m going to go on a bit of a rant here, so if you are fan of Kid Rock, you may want to skip to the next track. I’ll be damned if this isn’t the first time that I’ve heard Zevon’s calling card since that lazy, half-assed, poor excuse for a rock star, Kid Rock, went and appropriated it for his own use. I swear, the first time I heard his co-opting of “Werewolves” and Skynard’s “Sweet Home Alabama” I let a string of obscenities fly that would make George Carlin blush.

“Dance the Night Away” by Van Halen (from Van Halen II, 1979)

Being a “drooling fanatic” when it comes to Van Halen, I could talk until I’m blue in the face about Eddie’s influence alone. But this song is my hands down, all time, without a doubt favorite Van Halen song. Oh, and it kicks ass.

What’s on your shuffle today?

The Friday Five: August 14, 2009

Watch the shuffle, everywhere, keep looking! Keep watching the shuffle!

Friday Five : ˈfrī-(ˌ)dā,-dē ˈfīv : On the sixth day of every week I hit the shuffle button on my iTunes and share my five and drop a little knowledge and insight for each track. Sometimes there is a playlist involved, sometimes there isn’t. Sometimes we have guest, but most of the time it’s just me. The rest is up to you, our friends and readers! Fire up your media player of choice and share the first five random track of your shuffle in the comments.

The Five:

The Band – “Up on Cripple Creek”  (from Greatest Hits, 2000)

I’ll admit that I’ve heard this track covered more often than I’ve heard the original.

Phish – “The Divided Sky” (mp3) (from 2009-03-06: Hampton Coliseum, Hampton, VA, USA, 2009)

In this case, I’ll let the music do the talking.

John Mellencamp – “Jack and Diane” (from The Best That I Could Do 1978-1988, 1997)

Pop Quiz: What unique quality does “Jack and Diane” have in common with Prince & The Revolution‘s “When Doves Cry”?

Jellyfish – “Will You Marry Me” (mp3) (from Fan Club, 2002)

I recently acquired this fantastic collection of demos, outtakes, b-sides and live material from what could easily be my favorite band of the early 90’s. As evidenced by my chart, I’ve been on a steady diet of Jellyfish ever since. “Will You Marry Me” is easily one of the band’s strongest unreleased tracks and was only performed live.

DJ Shadow – “Mashin’ on the Motorway” (from The Private Press, 2002)

I’ve been a fan of DJ Shadow from the first moments of Entroducing…. in 1996. In the years between solo outtings he released an early singles collection and worked as part of the U.N.K.L.E. project but nothing could compare to what he does best

Side Note: The first person to correctly guess the “Pop Quiz” question gets a copy of Assembly of Dust‘s Some Assembly Required.

What’s up next on your shuffle?

Friday Night Videos

John Prine, sitting around the kitchen table, sings one of my favorites: “That’s the Way That the World Goes ‘Round”.

John Mellencamp’s (Cougar Mellencamp at the time) video for “Rain on the Scarecrow”.

Little Village was a great one album supergroup made up of John Hiatt, Ry Cooder, Nick Lowe and Jim Keltner. Here’s the video for “She Runs Hot”.