Red Rocks Amphitheatre
July 27th 2008
By DJ Hippie
Being the legendary performer he is there was never any question whether or John Mellencamp was going to be putting on a good show on this pleasantly overcast Sunday night. Instead, given the dark stripped down tone of his new album, the question became how was Indiana’s best export going to balance the new material with his lengthy collection of upbeat sing-alongs?
At first, following a somewhat long and tedious set by Lucinda Williams, after opening with a version of “Pink Houses” that was verbatim to the album version it appeared Mellencamp was going to use the Tom Petty method of playing it safe and sticking to the hits.
That notion was quickly dispelled as the band launched into a nicely retooled version of “Paper and Fire” followed by the adventurous choice of “I’m Not Running Anymore,” a song that, while well known, 103.5 The Fox would probably classify as a “deep cut.”
With that, it was clear that Mellencamp was here to play to his dedicated fan and not the portion of crowd that was here simply because Cherry Creek Mall closes early on Sundays. The band continued on with a danceable “Check It Out” and then played ”My Sweet Love” the first single off Mellencamp’s latest Life, Death, Love and Freedom
The show really took off from here as the band left the stage and Mellencamp strapped on an acoustic to play a mini solo-acoustic set that started with the poignant “Minutes to Memories,” from Mellencamp’s masterful Scarecrow album. After playing two new songs, including the first live performance of the haunting “Longest Days,” Mellencamp closed out his solo set with a version of the radio staple “Small Town” that whipped the crowd into frenzy.
The band quickly returned and launched into a powerful version of Scarecrow’s pro-farmer title track. Now it is important to note here that Mellencamp’s new album is a stripped down affair but that didn’t stop the band from delivering blistering, full band versions of “Troubled Land” and “If I Die Suddenly” that flat out blew away the album versions.
While all the songs on Life, Death, Love and Freedom deal with serious subjects the most controversial is easily “Jena,” a song that deals with the race fueled trial of six black men in Louisiana. Mellecamp took the opportunity to preach a message of unity before performing the song. His rap drew a large amount of vocal support from the crowd and sadly a few looks of indifference.
After another somewhat obscure song “Human Wheels,” the show winded down with a handful of Mellencamp’s most popular songs including the massively popular “Jack and Diane” and an encore of the always rocking “Authority Song.”
Mellancamp could have easily came to town and played a greatest hits show, lord knows he left out many of his most popular songs, but instead he chose to challenge the crowd with a show that was fresh and unexpected and from listening to the post-show chatter on the way to the parking lot it was easy to tell that some were disappointed that he didn’t.
Despite that, in the end, it is this kind of musical daring that has kept Mellencamp’s name among the top echelon of American performers.