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R.O.C.K. in T.Bay

At this stage of his career, rocker John Mellencamp has nothing to prove to anyone.
John Mellencamp rolled out hit after hit Tuesday night at Fort William Gardens. (Leith Dunick,

At this stage of his career, rocker John Mellencamp has nothing to prove to anyone.

But on Tuesday night, the 61-year-old singer proved himself all over again, taking his Fort William Gardens fans on a trip through his own personal rock-and-roll history, Indiana-style.

Mellencamp, on a cross-Canada tour, thrilled the crowd with a hits-laced setlist, covering most of his well-known ditties in a show that lasted more than 90 minutes.

He launched the show with the fast-paced, dance-hungry Authority Song, a no-nonsense start to a stripped-down show worthy of a true American storyteller.

It took the nearly sold-out crowd awhile to warm up to Mellencamp, but six songs in he got them on their feet with Check it Out, from his 1988 album The Lonesome Jubilee.

Then it was down to business.

The lights dimmed, he rolled up his sleeves, turned his back to the audience and walked slowly to the back of the stage, where he grabbed a guitar, turned to face his fans and spoke to them for the first time all night.

“Good evening, ladies and gentlemen. I’m John Mellencamp. We’ve come 10 million miles to see you and perform tonight,” he said, promising a raucous evening of music ahead.

“There’ll be some you don’t know, some you do know.

“We’re going to start by doing an old favourite of everybody’s. If you know it, sing along.”

A campfire, sing-along version of his 1982 hit Jack and Diane ensued, with Mellencamp gladly giving way to the crowd for the chorus, the crowd eagerly eating up the opportunity to fill in the gaps.

His adoring followers were ready for a string of hits to come, but Mellencamp, influenced by the likes of Bob Dylan, Woodie Guthrie and Buddy Holly, had other plans first.

Oh, the singles would come, but first he paid tribute to his grandmother, who lived to the ripe old age of 100, regaling the crowd with a tale of how she never called him John, only referring to him as Buddy. One day she asked him to pray with her, which he did.
All of a sudden, her voice got louder, Mellencamp said.

“She said, ‘Me and Buddy are ready to come home.’ 'Well Grandma,” he answered, 'Buddy is not really ready to come home. Buddy has a lot more singing to do.'"

But before she died, she gave him a piece of advice.

“One of these days, you’re going to find out this life is short, even in its longest days,” Mellencamp’s cue to rip into Longest Days, the lead song off his critically acclaimed 2008 album Life, Death, Love and Freedom, a song he later dedicated to filmmaker Nora Ephron, who died Tuesday at age 71.

Then the hits started rolling.

Bathed in blue, Mellencamp laid forth his ode to rural America, Small Town, which quickly led into a rip-roaring, crowd-swaying version of Scarecrow, followed by the equally hot Paper and Fire. After a short dip back into his extensive catalogue, the rocker found his second wind and finished strong.

Crumblin’ Down brought the aging house to its feet, but not to the ground, Pink Houses satiated its appetite for Mellencamp’s best and after thanking his band, he closed with R.O.C.K. in the U.S.A and Cherry Bomb, sending ticket buyers streaming into the streets plenty satisfied, despite the dismal Gardens acoustics.

Mellencamp certainly left out a few favourites, including Hurts So Good, Dance Naked and AIn’t Even Done With the Night, but with his extensive catalogue, no set list could cover it all.

Leith Dunick

About the Author: Leith Dunick

A proud Nova Scotian who has called Thunder Bay home since 2002, Leith is Dougall Media's director of news, but still likes to tell your stories too. Wants his Expos back and to see Neil Young at least one more time. Twitter: @LeithDunick
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