Double Feature. John Mellencamp @ Grand Canal Theatre 28 June 2011

The show started early with Kurt and Ian Markus' gritty and attractive documentary It's About You, shot in hand-held style on grainy Super 8mm film it follows Mellencamp around the States, touring and recording his last album with T-Bone Burnett. It's insightful and visually arresting but perhaps a little long for some of the audience whose attention drifted towards the bar. The show itself, a 22 song set, which ran for almost two hours opened with the sentient voice of Johnny Cash before the curtains opened to reveal three guitarists with electric guitars and a drummer playing a stripped down kit of snare and standing tom and an acoustic bass guitar. The played with a concise power against a theatre backdrop of ancient ruins, which seemed somehow appropriate given that Mellencamp music draws from a deep well of old American music forms.

Mellencamp played a choice of songs that came from various points in his career. He started with Authority Song and closed with R.O.C.K. In The U.S.A. Though he told the audience that he "didn't like to look back" he included a fair number of his better known career songs alongside some more recent songs. He did make the point that he had been asked by a fan on the Dublin's street to play Cherry Bomb and said that while he doesn't normally "do requests" this request was asked for so sincerely that he played it solo acoustically. He open with the full band which had expanded, after a couple of songs, to include violinist Miriam Sturm as well as keyboards and accordion player Troye Kinnett. They are all musicians who have played with Mellencamp previously, some are long time veterans like guitarists Mike Wanchic and Andy York who, with the dynamic rhythm section of John Gunnell and Dane Clark, are the perfect band to deliver Mellencamp's memorable songs in a cohesive, powerful set.

It was nine songs in before Mellencamp spoke to the audience. He thanked us for coming and then played an acoustic set that included Save Some Time To Dream which he said was some advice his father had given him. He also remarked about the young dangerous looking young men he saw in his travels but that the grey haired person sitting beside was probably a more dangerous prospect. At 60 Mellencamp is still looks pretty dangerous himself and he gives a sterling performance which is much appreciated by the very supportive audience, most of whom would undoubtably be long time fans judging from the response.

Mellencamp is very much his own man and records and plays his music exactly the way he wants too. He balances the acoustic songs, which often started solo then had the accordion and violin join him, which added to the power of the subtly of those song as against the full force rocking roots anthems. He included favourites Jack And Diane, Paper In Fire, Pink Houses, Walk Tall and Small Town. Songs that sit seamlessly alongside more recent songs like The West End, No One Cares About Me and  , a song that he told us was a true story about a night out with his son that ended with a fight. 

Though some still regard Mellencamp as standing in Bruce Springsteen's shadow, this night proved that Mellencamp is very much his own man with the charisma, songs, voice and band to deliver a memorable live experience that satisfied on many levels.


Review by Stephen Rapid, Photography of off-screen image and live photograph by Karl Tsigdinos