Show Review + Setlist: John Mellencamp at Farm Aid, October 4

by

comment

John Mellencamp and his crack band may have stolen the show at Farm Aid. The Seymour, Indiana, native opened his nine-song set with slower versions of "Pink Houses" and "Paper in Fire." The youthful intensity Mellencamp exuded when he called himself Johnny Cougar has smoldered into a slower-burning passion, as exemplified in the latter song during the chorus. Multiple members of his band lined up near the front of the stage like a marching-band squad, their voices swelling in a riotous call to arms.

That a communal spirit permeated Mellencamp's songs should be no surprise: Guitarist Mike Wanchic has been a Coug collaborator for thirty-plus years and guitarist Andy York is also a long-term band member. Their versatility was more impressive, however. Mellencamp's nicotine-stained voice cut through "If I Die Sudden," which had a shuffling, Texas honky-tonk feel, while "Troubled Land" sailed forward on a plush organ bed. And of course, Miriam Sturm's nimble violin dominated the chestnut "Check It Out," and she and accordionist/keyboardist Troye Kinnett played an instrumental mini-symphony before an awe-inspiring version of "Rain on the Scarecrow."

At least stylistically, that tune should be one of many considered to be alt-country ground zero. But Mellencamp doesn't get enough credit as an influence (or enough critical praise for his reflective later work), which frees him to just be a heart-on-sleeve badass. He ended many songs with what we termed the "Coug punctuation mark" -- an arm cocked back as if to throw a punch that instead ended in a pumped fist, i.e. "Yesss!" - and carried his guitar almost like a barbell.

An acoustic version of "Small Town" was a crowd-pleaser -- and not to be outdone by Willie and his kid, Mellencamp even brought out his son to play guitar on show-closer "Authority Song." Although the towheaded teen seemed a little nervous to be out there, the tune hasn't lost any of its defiant luster. Authority might always win - but Mellencamp still always comes out on top.

Setlist: "Pink Houses" "Paper In Fire" "Check It Out" "Save Some Time to Dream" "Small Town" "Rain on the Scarecrow" "Troubled Land" "If I Die Sudden" "Authority Song"

Support Local Journalism.
Join the Riverfront Times Press Club

Local journalism is information. Information is power. And we believe everyone deserves access to accurate independent coverage of their community and state. Our readers helped us continue this coverage in 2020, and we are so grateful for the support.

Help us keep this coverage going in 2021. Whether it's a one-time acknowledgement of this article or an ongoing membership pledge, your support goes to local-based reporting from our small but mighty team.

Join the Riverfront Times Club for as little as $5 a month.