Tonight, the stage at Shea’s Theater in Buffalo, NY, is set for one of America’s most beloved and enduring rockers, John Mellencamp.
Sitting on stage are two mannequin-looking figures, their gleaming eyes glaring into the audience as everyone anxiously awaits for the show to start. The man next to me tells me that the last time he saw Mellencamp was at the Toledo Sports Arena in 1983. “He put on a hell of a show,” he says.
The lights dim and the crowd erupts into applause. Instead of an opening act, we are greeted with a half an hour film adorned with clips of movies that influenced John as an artist and a musician. During the film, fans become more anxious, shouting from the crowd, “Come on, John, start the show!”
Soon enough, the clip for “A Street Car Named Desire” finishes up and the audience is greeted with red siren lights and an old backdrop of a black and white scene.
John takes the stage opening with the timeless hit “John Cockers.” His raspy, soulful voice fills the theatre and it was clear that he had lost none of the power that made him famous.
The singer-songwriter is backed by a talented band that includes three guitarists, a violinist, and a keyboardist, some of which have been with Mellencamp for decades.
Mellencamp launches into a setlist that touches upon his chart-topping hits and deep cuts, delighting his die-hard fans. Tunes like “Paper In Fire,” “Minutes To Memories,” “Small Town” and “Human Wheels” brings back a stir of emotions for those in the crowd as people hoot and holler while singing the songs. Next up is “Jackie Brown,” a piece about someone fighting to make a difference in the world, despite her circumstances.
Mellencamp then dives into “Check It Out” and follows up with a story about a young woman he encountered in Portland whose body was often used for sex. Feeling heartbroken by the woman’s story, Mellencamp bought the woman a meal and a ticket back home. The woman, miles away from where she originally came from, was so grateful for John’s generosity. After telling the story, Mellencamp heads into his song “Eyes of Portland,” a song dedicated to the woman.
From the very first note to the closing encore, Mellencamp proved that he still possesses the charisma, energy, and musical prowess that have made him an icon in the realm of heartland rock.
Mellencamp’s performance truly stood out: his ability to connect with the audience personally is still so prevalent even today. He shared anecdotes, stories, and reflections between songs, providing glimpses into the inspiration behind his music. It was evident that Mellencamp’s songs were not just catchy tunes, but windows into his own experiences, struggles and triumphs.
Before the next song, “Longest Days,” Mellencamp touches on a comical story about his Grandma, who always had a way of telling Mellencamp that he should behave in some way. For example, constantly cussing. One of the last things his Grandma said to him was, “’You know, buddy, you’re going to find out soon that our lives are short even in their longest days,’” and that’s where the song was born.
Following the tune, the energy in the theatre soared during the performance of “Jack & Diane,” with the crowd singing with unbridled enthusiasm. Mellencamp’s stage presence was captivating; he moved with an infectious swagger, clearly reveling in the joy of performing live.
We’re soon greeted by a spoken word of Mellencamp’s “The Real Life” performed by Joanne Woodward.
Mellencamp’s talent as a songwriter shone through on “Rain On The Scarecrow,” and “Lonely Ol’ Night,” and “What If I Came Knocking.” These introspective moments allowed the audience to reflect on their own lives, reminding us of the power of music to evoke emotions.
Mellencamp’s ability to capture the essence of the human experience was on full display, and it was a testament to his enduring relevance, especially during the mashup for “Crumblin’ Down” and “Gloria.”
The concert reached one of its peaks with “Pink Houses,” enticing the entire crowd on their feet, dancing and singing in unison, followed by the classic and anthemic “Cherry Bomb.”
The electric energy felt like a celebration of not only Mellencamp’s music, but also the shared experiences and emotions that his songs embody.
As the concert drew to a close, Mellencamp plays “Hurts So Good” as the last hoorah, leaving the audience exhilarated, their voices hoarse from singing along.
In the end, John Mellencamp’s concert was a testament to rock’s enduring power and music’s ability to unite and move people. His performance was filled with authenticity, passion, and a genuine connection with the audience. Mellencamp proved once again why he is regarded as a true music icon.