Monday, April 20, 2015

John Mellencamp at Carnegie Hall

John Mellencamp formed his first band in Seymour, Indiana, at the age of 14. Upon graduating from college in 1974, Mellencamp worked by day as a telephone installer but at night played in several local bands including the glitter-band Trash, which was named after a New York Dolls song. He traveled often to New York City hoping to land a career in music, but also to study painting as a back-up career. David Bowie's manager signed Mellencamp, renamed him Johnny Cougar and released a debut album in 1976. As the hits began amounting in the 1980s, the artist changed his name to John Cougar, then John Cougar Mellencamp and eventually to John Mellencamp. Mellencamp sold over 40 million records, helped organize the first Farm Aid benefit concert in 1985, wrote a musical with horror author Stephen King in 2000 and was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2008. He acted in films from 1992 to 2002. He released a book of his early paintings in 1998, and a touring exhibit of his paintings came to a New York art gallery in 2014. Mellencamp's 22nd studio album, Plain Spoken, was released on September 23, 2014. Mellencamp lives on the shores of Lake Monroe in Indiana.

It has been a long time since Carnegie Hall rocked like it did tonight. In recent years, the few rock artists that have performed the venue have performed solo and acoustic. Mellencamp brought his six musicians, with Miriam Sturm’s violin and Troye Kinnett's accordion and harmonica adding a particularly unique classical and country interpretation to the arrangements. Mellencamp opened with two songs from his most recent album, with vocals far raspier than in earlier times, giving these songs a gruff, scrappy texture. After performing "Small Town," Mellencamp announced that he was going to perform "songs you know, songs you don't know and songs you can dance to," and followed with a cover of Robert Johnson's "Stones in My Passway." The set frequently favored deep cuts over many of his hits; he did not even perform his first major success, "Hurts So Good." Other surprises included Mellencamp performing "Jack and Diane" solo and acoustic and harmonizing two songs from his Ghost Brothers of Darkland County musical with opening act Carlene Carter, Mellencamp stepping off stage during a violin and accordion instrumental medley of songs that included his very first single, "I Need a Lover," and the insertion of a rousing cover version of Cannibal & the Headhunters' 1965 song "Land of 1,000 Dances" within Mellencamp's "The Authority Song" -- yes, the song he promised the audience would dance to. Overall, the performance by Mellencamp and band brimmed with earnestness and integrity, and was worthy of a Carnegie Hall appearance.

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