November 5, 2010
Kansas City, MO USA
Review by David Huff
Photos by Tim Bischoff
The sold-out concert at the Midland Theater in Kansas City should have been billed as The Two Faces of John instead of An Evening With.
For the first 90 minutes, a laid back guitarist named John Mellencamp performed on stage with an occasional musician or two coming out to accompany him. After intermission, another performer named John Cougar emerged on stage with a six-piece band in tow. It took only one song, "Rain on the Scarecrow" to shake off the "Jack & Diane" moments from the previous 90 minutes to set the "R.O.C.K. in the U.S.A." tone for the next.
Throughout the '80s, this Hoosier native introduced the country to his particular slice of Americana with resounding success. Beginning with the brilliantly titled 1980 release of Nothing Matters and What If It Did, through 1989's Big Daddy, Mellencamp was the man. Unfortunately, a lot of the great music from this period was missing in his show. Yeah, maybe I am being nitpicky, but at this stage of the Cougar man's career, I care about the songs that made him great in the '80s, not what makes him a contemporary thinker thereafter. Songs like "I Need a Lover", "Minutes to Memory", "Ain't Even Done with the Night", "Hard to Hold On To", "Lonely Ol' Nights" and "Crumblin' Down" were jettisoned from the set list much to the chagrin of the crowd. Instead, bathroom break songs like "Deep Blue Heart", "Death Letter" and "Right Behind Me" were added to personalize the show.
Here's the thing a lot of performers at this stage of their career fail to grasp. People come to your shows to hear the hits, not sit through songs an artist thinks will fully round out his overall show. That attitude is what caused this show to fail on several levels. Give the people what they paid good money to see. Don't fool them into believing you might play the hit, or you might not.
The audience wasn't expecting a 90-minute low key performance followed by a 30-minute all-out electric jam. Certainly the first set started off on the right note with a great acoustic version of the "Authority Song", but it quickly fell apart after that. It took five consecutive songs no one will ever remember before John brought the crowd back to life with "Check it Out".
I'm not saying the audience didn't want to be with Mellencamp during his show, it just seemed at times the artist didn't care. The longer the string of unforgettable songs continued during the night, the more the audience seemed to tune out. When you can hear people talking in a theater bar during songs like "Longest Days" and "Save Some Time to Dream", that in itself is an indication you're music is having major connection issues.
I had very mixed feelings leaving this show. Apparently a large portion of the crowd did as well. No matter how hard they tried to coax Mellencamp out for a second encore, their pleas went unheeded. And that's a shame. The next time John shows up in Kansas City, I suggest he release his inner Cougar and leave the reflective part of him self 'back home in Indiana.'