John Mellencamp wanted to make one thing perfectly clear to the audience at the Golden Gate Theater in San Francisco:
“The older I get, the less I give a (expletive),” proclaimed Hoosier, 71. “I don’t give a (expletive)”
However, it seems to me that Mellencamp protests too much.
You don’t put on a fierce show like he did on Friday and you don’t give a (expletive). In fact, his passion burned red hot during the little-over two-hour concert, as he combed through his songbook as convincingly as he has at any time during a recording career dating back to the 1976 debut of “Johnny Cougar.” , “Chestnut Street Incident.
He still champions social issues through song, both in his previous issues and in the new ones he’s been writing. Her comments to the crowd on Friday, the first half of a two-night gathering at the venue, made it clear just how much she cares about the art of songwriting. And he works very hard to put on a show that matters to both the audience and the musicians on stage.
So yes, Mellencamp still cares. He cares a lot.
And he certainly cares about old movies. That was underscored during a 30-minute opening segment where clips from some of Mellencamp’s favorite classic films, 1954’s “On the Waterfront” and 1960’s “The Fugitive Kind,” both starring Marlon Brando, appeared on a big screen. in the center of the stage. . This tie-in with tour sponsor Turner Classic Movies, however, only worked moderately well, as crowd noise made dialogue very difficult to hear.
Around 8:30 p.m., the screen rolled up so the crowd could see Mellencamp and his superb six-piece band launching the deep cut “John Cockers” from 2008’s “Life, Death, Love and Freedom.” she was also accompanied onstage by some creepy-looking movie star mannequins, including one that was supposed to be Brando and another that might have been Paul Newman, although honestly he looked at least like Pee Wee Herman from my point of view. view. .
From that soft-sell start, Mellencamp quickly shifted into high gear for a big three-song run through “Paper in Fire,” “Minutes to Memories,” and “Small Town,” the last of which really got the crowd going. went into party mode. All of those numbers come from Mellencamp’s two ’80s albums, “Scarecrow” and “The Lonesome Jubilee,” which rank as the best outings in his entire catalogue. In total, eight of the 21 songs performed were from those two albums.
Mellencamp then gave fans time to catch their breath as he switched from longtime fan favorites to some lesser-known cuts, including “Dear God,” “Jackie Brown,” and “Don’t Need This Body.”
“Looking at the audience, I can tell some of you can relate to this,” Mellencamp said in the introduction to the old age ode “Don’t Need This Body”.
The highlight of this middle section of the show came when he played “The Eyes of Portland,” a poignant new song addressing the plight of the homeless that Mellencamp wrote after visiting the Oregon city a few years ago.
“I just played in Portland a couple of nights ago,” he said. “And it’s not getting better.”
Mellencamp’s voice was deeper than in his commercial prime, but that only seemed to add to the authority and maturity of the lyrics. You believed every word he sang, a rare gift in 2023.
He also told many intriguing stories, usually in the introduction to the song he was about to perform. She talked about her family, noting how her grandmother lived to be 100 and her father is 93.
“I’m not going to survive (that long) because I’ve been smoking since I was 10 years old,” he said.
That ultimately led to a beautiful story about a prayer session with his grandmother that inspired “Longest Days,” a standout track from “Life, Death, Love and Freedom” that finds Mellencamp at his most John Prine-like.
“In the depth of your soul, you know yourself, you have no flame,” he sang. “And who knows then which way to go. Life is short, even on its longest days.
The funniest part of the night was when Mellencamp launched into an acoustic version of “Jack & Diane,” which of course got a huge audience singing along, but not very accurately.
The crowd ended up misinterpreting the lyrics, apparently not a rarity at a Mellencamp show, so the songwriter stopped by to punish the chorus of hundreds.
“You must have been absent the day Songwriting 101 was taught,” he said.
He ended up giving the fans another chance, which they nailed, taking the chorus of “Jack & Diane” with such gusto it could have been heard in the Sunset District.
Mellencamp then made one more cinematic connection, which ultimately ended up working, as he played an audio recording of Joann Woodward dramatically reading the lyrics of her song “The Real Life” to live accordion and violin accompaniment.
From then on, it was all (almost) hits as Mellencamp toured gems like “Rain on the Scarecrow” (which is the most powerful number in his entire catalogue), “Lonely Ol’ Night,” “Crumblin’ Down.” (combined with some of Them’s “Gloria”) and “Pink Houses”.
He closed the show with a great version of “Hurt So Good,” from “American Fool,” which went five-platinum in 1982, leaving the crowd feeling great as he walked out of the charming theater and down Market Street.
Mellencamp also performs March 18 at the Golden Gate Theatre. Visit broadwaysf.com for tickets and information.
John Mellencamp track listing:
1, “John Cockers”
2, “Paper on fire”
3, “Minutes to Memories”
4, “Small Town”
5, “Hey God”
6, “Human Wheels”
7, “I don’t need this body”
8, “Jackie Brown”
9, “Check it out”
10, “Portland Eyes”
11, “The Longest Days”
12, “Jack and Diane”
13, “I always lie to strangers”
14, “Real Life”
15, “Rain on the Scarecrow”
16, “The Lonely Old Night”
17, “Falling Apart”/”Glory”
18, “Pink Houses”
19, “Chasing Rainbows”
20, “Cherry Bomb”
21, “It Hurts So Much”