Sunday, April 14, 2024

John Mellencamp Performed, Managed Hecklers, at the Stranahan

First of all, let’s get the elephant in the room out of the way. Did John Mellencamp walk off-stage for a brief time after being heckled by a handful of unruly concert-goers? Yes, he did. What the blurbs in online publications fail to mark is the context in which this build-up occurred. 

From the start, where we were treated to classic film clips such as The Fugitive Kind and Hud – which during, a female yelled out, “I didn’t pay money to watch a f—ing movie!” Yes, five movie clips to begin a rock concert might be a little much for anyone who wasn’t paying attention to the fact that these films are among the artistic influences on Mellencamp’s music; as were the anecdotes he attempted to tell before people decided to shout aloud.

The first being a story of a run-in during a stay in Portland, Oregon with a homeless girl, “500 miles from home” as he recalled, which was the influence for the next track in the set, “The Eyes of Portland” – a rousing protest song which Mellencamp performed mainly acoustic. 

During this first anecdote, some yokel, who, by their slurred drivel couldn’t stomach the green beers they had ingested throughout the day (and had been uproarious in between songs in a tone which, at first, sounded jovial) blurted out to the stage. To which Mellencamp replied, “If you’re gonna yell out like that, maybe you should go back to kindergarten,” which was responded to with unanimous applause. 

At this point in the set, roughly six songs in, Mellencamp and his iron-clad band had the crowd in the palm of their hand. Having blasted through such classics as “Paper in Fire” and “Minutes to Midnight,” the crowd gave their adoration. And after each song, Mellencamp placed his hand over his heart and thanked the crowd. After charging through the first few songs, he finally addressed the audience,

“Thank you very much. I’m John Mellencamp, (and) this is my band.”

Regardless if it were the Stranahan, Frankie’s on Main Street, the Ottawa Tavern or the defunct Mickey Finn’s, Mellencamp has one of the absolute tightest bands you could spend your money to hear. Each player reads and feeds off each other as though they could have played the whole show blind-folded and with their backs to the crowd. The cues hit their mark without absolve, no instrument dominate over the others. 

This was, and is, a band in full force, showcasing not only Mellencamp’s role as the head conductor, but also the beautifully folded sound mix consisting of Mike Wanchic and Andy York’s jangling guitars, John Gunnell’s rhythm bass on the thump, Troye Kinnett acting as Consigliere on the keyboards and drummer Dane Clark banging the skins like they owed him rent money. 

The highlight of the early set, for my money, was “Human Wheels,” during which Lisa Germano performed a violin solo so exquisite that it nearly brought me to tears. Such a powerful song to lead into the bosom of the set. 

RELATED: John Mellencamp: An Honest Man’s Pillow is His Peace of Mind

Then came the straw-that-broke-the-camel’s-back commentary from the balcony.

It was during Mellencamp’s second anecdote of his mid-set acoustic songs where the aforementioned shouter decided to let his voice be known. 

Worst part was it was during an anecdote which Mellencamp was divulging about his “99 and 3/4-year-old grandmother” – the woman who has played as much into the storytelling as any character he’s ever known, especially on album standards such as Scarecrow

“How ‘bout you play some music!” said the heckler.

“What do you think I’ve been doing, c-cks-cker!” replied Mellencamp.

Yes, Mellencamp challenged the heckler to “meet me out back after the show,” then proceeded to strum the first few chords to an acoustic version of “Jack and Diane” before he said “F-ck it” and walked off. 

He warned the crowd until the crowd finally shut down the heckling. Thankfully, for the lot of us, after several minutes of hollering for the lights to dim, the band came back on and tore through the rest of the setlist. “Lonely Ol’ Night,” “Pink Houses,” and more graced the Stranahan stage.

Leave it to the man who knows his own songs. 

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