Mellencamp returns to the stage

Four years after his last live gig, longtime Bloomington resident opens a mammoth new tour at the IU Auditorium

Mellencamp shows no signs of slowing down at age 71. Courtesy Photo.

In the four years since John Mellencamp took on concert tours across the U.S. and beyond, his fans got more than a little nostalgic for the songs that provided a soundtrack for their lives and propelled the Bloomington-based musician into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.

The 76 date “Live and In Person” tour that kicked off at the Indiana University Auditorium Sunday night drew reactions from “He’s always good” to “Maybe the best show I’ve seen him do.”

The kickoff show for the lengthy new tour had its quirks but it was perfectly grounded in the era that so many longed to revisit. Perhaps motivated by the recent release of a 2-CD box set of remixed, remastered and previously unreleased material from the 1985 album, “Scarecrow,” Mellencamp tapped that album, 1987’s “The Lonesome Jubilee” and the 1982-93 era more heavily than he did in pre-pandemic tours.

And lo and behold, his violinist during much of that time period, Lisa Germano, was back with the band for the first time in 29 years, joining the boys in the remarkably stable, outstanding Mellencamp crew.

Recent albums have been critically acclaimed as Mellencamp has embraced country blues and what might be called Americana. The years lived by the 71-year-old rocker, and the cigarette smoking that contributed to a 1994 heart attack, add a grit and gravel to his vocals.

But this show demonstrated that if anything, Mellencamp the singer can still nail songs from his lengthy repertoire. His audience clearly embraced hearing songs such as “Minutes to Memories,” “Small Town,” “Human Wheels,” “Check It Out,” “Jack and Diane,” “Rain on the Scarecrow“ and Pink Houses.”

And as always, Mellencamp and his stellar band found ways to reimagine those much-played songs to make them sound fresh and still familiar.

Surprises? How about a recorded recitation of the lyrics to “The Real Life” vocalized by actress Joanne Woodward? That led, dramatically, into the powerful, anthemic “Rain on the Scarecrow.”


Before the announced starting time, and then way, way too long afterwards, the screen above the stunning Streetcar Named Desire-themed backdrop showed clips of black and white films that fit Mellencamp’s tastes, including Streetcar, “Cool Hand Luke,” “The Last Picture Show,” and “Hud,” the classic Larry McMurtry novel made into a film starring Paul Newman, for which Mellencamp named one of his sons.

The current tour is the first to enjoy sponsorship from Turner Classic Movies, and while it wasn’t obvious to the audience, it appeared, the film clips that TCM sponsored went on so long — a half hour, 45-minutes? – that the audience began groaning, and then outright booing.

“I came to hear a fucking concert,” a man in the audience shouted at the perfect time when half of auditorium could hear it. At another point, the audience began chanting “Let’s Go Hoosiers,” an attempt to roll out the hook and yank the power cord from the celluloid sidestreet that simply did not engage the audience at all.

What looked like a disaster in the making dissipated quickly when Mellencamp and band took to the stage, again, strangely, to the blaring sound and sight of a faux emergency siren and flashing red lights.

There was one other memorable “This is odd” diversion. Near the end of the show, Mellencamp said he was trying something he’d never done before — teach the audience a new song.

“Chasing Rainbows” — to be honest — sounded like a song Mr. Rogers would teach to a pre-pubescent audience. “The end of the rainbow, turns out to be somewhere, look around, it’s everywhere, for anyone who cares.”

It was strikingly odd for the salty Mellencamp, who also lectured the audience, humorously, about not giving a fuck about day-to-day annoyances and saving those “give a fuck” moments for the people who love you.

In the end, the audience seemed satisfied, happy, and glad to see the Hoosier troubadour again, even though the show came in on the short side of standard concert duration. Maybe an hour and 15 minutes excluding the film boreathon.

And no Mellencamp show can be mentioned without recognizing the fabulous band and arrangements. That would be 49-year band veteran, guitarist and musical director Mike Wanchic, lead guitarist Andy York, bassist John Gunnell, drummer Dane Clark, keyboardist Troye Kinnett and violinist, Germano.🐝