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John Mellencamp at Atlanta's FOX Theatre - Outstanding!

I just returned from the John Mellencamp concert at Atlanta's Fox Theater and I must say John still has the fire at 59. Mellencamp has been one of Rock and Roll's icons with twenty-two Top 40 hits throughout his career. His brand of Heartland Rock and Roll is recognized for its grassroots, rural character making the claim for the working middle class and agricultural farm life. Mellencamp has always had a tight band featuring a fast beat with a strong percussion and bass signature. Add some fancy fiddle playing with electric and acoustic guitars, synthesizers, and Mellencamp's passionate raspy vocals and you have all the ingredients for rock and roll that will lift you out of your seat and start you dancing around the room.

Mellencamp's show deviates from the current trends in slick techno productions. The set is a simple stage with traditional spot lighting and a simple backdrop - there is nothing techno about this show except the excellent sound system. This could easily be a set for Saturday Night Live or one of the late night talk shows. The performance is very traditional, it's pure Mellencamp.

In place of a warm up band, the show begins with an hour long documentary film "Its About You" on the making of Mellencamp's latest album, "No Better Than This". The film is shot using a grainy film technique to give it a low-budget, dated, and nostalgic feel. The screen is set up in the middle of the stage much as one might have set up in a living room for 8mm home movies in the 1960's. The audience is introduced to the new material on the album and they get a look into the emotions, dialog, settings, and jumpy videography that went into recording these songs on location. Then there is a 20 minute intermission and the live show begins. A quick introduction and the curtain rises.

One thing that struck me in a funny way is the different theme that Mellencamp brings to this tour to promote his latest album. In the past Mellencamp has written anti-government, politically fueled songs about rural farm life, middle class strife, and racial tensions. His music was written to influence people and opinions. I would have expected with all the problems with the collapse of the middle class, home foreclosures, unemployment, social and political polarization, climate change and more that John Mellencamp would have some pretty strong words to say in his songs but, in his new album, it seems that he is questioning his own mortality. Many of his messages deal with the the duel between the devil and Jesus as well as his fear (or lack of fear) of dying. One act features John "dancing with the devil". At another point in the show he shares a story of laying in bed with his dying grandmother as she calls the lord to take them both. And Mellencamp even jokes about his smoking habit saying he's "smoked over 650,000 cigarettes in his life - can he get his money back" and then he sings a song about his body being worn out. These new songs are still characterized by the strong bass and drums of his early work but the tone is darker and more haunting with a slower beat.

Adding humor to the performance midway through the show, Mellencamp tells a story of meeting a guy named "Jerry" on the streets of Atlanta earlier in the day. Jerry says he is coming to the show and asks John to play his old songs at the show. John is not interested in playing his old stuff and blurts back at Jerry, "the past is nothing" but then he agrees to sing one song Jerry requested, "Cherry Bomb" which he does as a tribute to Jerry in a strange way. John sings Cherry Bomb illuminated by a single spotlight with no musical accompaniment nor does he strike a single chord on his guitar but the power and rhythm of his voice are so moving it brings tears to the eyes. After the song, Mellencamp returns to his slate of new material up until he announces the end of the show when he asks people to sing along if they know the words to a few of his older songs. The concert ends with an upbeat, high energy compilation of several hits including "Scarecrow", "R-O-C-K in the USA", and "Paper in Fire". After the band leaves the stage, Mellencamp takes a couple bows and exits himself. No gimmicky "keep the lights dim while the crowd cheers for an encore" - this concert is over.

Sam Dobrow is a freelance writer and photographer based in Atlanta, GA. Visit his blog for more information and content.


  • GaryH 4 years ago

    Saw the same concert last night too. Worst concert I've ever seen. No encore?? I don't think I've ever been to a concert where the artist doesn't respect the audience enough (paying audience that is--up to $100 a ticket) to provide an encore. Here is a tip for Mr. Mellencamp--if you want to just play your new stuff--do a free concert. I know that you don't want to play your old stuff, but once you charge $500 to $100 per seat, you really need to think about your audience, not yourself.

  • LamarL 4 years ago

    I agree with GaryH. I was very disappointed in Mellencamp concert. The old hits are what I paid to hear. Hated the show. Mellencamp will not get any more of my money.

  • Thomas 4 years ago

    Have to disagree with Gary. Knew there was no artificial encore going in. Loved the pretty blond on stage wih Mellencamp for his last song.

  • Jeff W 4 years ago

    I totally aggree with Gary. I have seen over 100+ concerts - this is one of the 5 worst. For a performer that proclaims "small town values" - he pulled a bait and switch. If he is not going to play his hits (that have made him famous) - please let the ticket buyer know before they pay there money. That crowd was ready to rock - he killed it. When people are sitting in there seats with two songs to go - the concert is a bomb. I thought it might just be me. After the lights came on, everyone around me was also complaining about the show. The people who had seen Mellencamp before - said this was sadly lacking. Also, given the concert was so near Valentines - I can believe he totally BUTCHERED Jack and Diane. Which is a song that means so much to a lot of couple in the audience.

    Bottomline: AWFUL CONCERT - we were robbed.

  • Roger H 4 years ago

    I took my 13 year old son on this excursion. I knew what I was getting into with Mellencamp warming up for himself. I knew the new material was coming at a rapid pace and the old material would be reworked. But, the film was a disaster for a large majority of the crowd. Yes, John is an "artist". He can do whatever the heck he wants to do. John just never "rocked the house" really. The remakes of Jack and Diane (this time), Pink Houses, Authority Song lacked a punch that make the songs great. Yes, we all sang along anyway. When John went electric…too loud. He always does this so it wasn't a shocker With that said, "Scarecrow" was actually pretty powerful. Anyway, I'll be back to see John next time. Will he go to the Variety Playhouse and do a solo tour, or will he go back to Encore Park and rock out, or back to the Fox? Who knows. I'll take my son out for another excursion. That is certainly part of the fun, being with him for these experiences. It wasn't the best show for sure. Kid Rock this Friday. Now, that will be rock n roll...and country...and blues... and rap. Hmm. They're all different. Another excursion.

  • Anonymous 4 years ago

    99% of the reviews for his recent set of gigs are all very positive. I know several people who went to this show and they loved it. The only people who are negative are the ones who only want him to play his old songs. Sorry, don't believe you Jeff W.

  • Ken 4 years ago

    If you are a true Mellencamp fan, you probably loved the show. If you are not a true fan, you probably didn't care for the show. I personally loved the show and I loved the way he changed arrangements on the old stuff. What I didn't like were the stupid moron ushers trying to enforce the camera policy. The idiots didn't even understand the camera policy. Some said no cameras, some said cameras were fine, just no flash.
    Too many f--king rules. Just f--koff and let fans do what fans do.

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