Perfecting the lost art of the backstage meet ‘n’ greet at John Mellencamp in Vancouver

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ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED IN THE GEORGIA STRAIGHT, MAY 20, 1999

I like John Mellencamp, but my sister Julie and cousin Cory are crazy about him, so I did some serious scroungin’ and wangled three backstage passes to meet the Indiana rocker before he went on-stage at GM Place last Saturday (May 15). Now, for those who’ve never experienced what is known in the music industry as a meet ’n’ greet, you basically stand around with a bunch of company jacket–wearing types from local radio stations and CD stores until it’s your turn to pose with the artist for a quick photo. It’s sort of a cheesy, embarrassing ritual, but hey—if it means the world to people you care for, you deal with it.

Besides, before shaking hands with the diminutive Little Bastard—I’m not being rude, that’s what Mellencamp calls himself—I got to rub shoulders with the Comedy Channel’s Mike Bullard, who seems like a real nice guy. I also managed to chat with some members of Mellencamp’s band, who proved equally friendly and unassuming. New drummer Dane Clark was so relaxed that I felt safe commenting about his having big shoes to fill in taking over drum god Kenny Aronoff’s role of 22 years.

“It’s no problem,” replied the bespectacled skin-basher, “no problem at all.”

As soon as the concert started, Clark’s confidence was validated by his deft stickwork on the calypso-tinged “I’m Not Running Anymore”. That was one of only three tunes Mellencamp offered from his new self-titled CD, staying true to his promise to roll out the oldies to please long-time fans. Bolstered by the intense execution of a crack seven-piece band, his 90-minute set featured gutsy versions of “Rain on the Scarecrow”, “The Authority Song”, and “Crumblin’ Down”.

Mellencamp’s own energy level has dropped somewhat since I last saw him, at the Pacific Coliseum prior to his 1994 heart attack, but his vocals are still potent. That said, crackerjack percussionist and backup vocalist Pat Peterson nearly stole the show when she sang the parts recorded by Me’shell Ndegéocello on Mellencamp’s version of Van Morrison’s “Wild Night”.

The crowning moment of the night came when Mellencamp performed a solo rendition of the recent single “Your Time Is Now”, accompanying himself on acoustic guitar and harmonica. The spare arrangement helped drive home the tune’s homespun, teach-your-children-well theme, and large sections of the crowd erupted in appreciation of his uplifting ode to the simple life.

The wildest cheers were saved for “Small Town”, though, which the muscular Mellencamp sang in a sleeveless white undershirt, causing both of my kin to dance wildly in the aisle. By the time he pulled a freaked-out fan up from the second row to sing a couple of choruses on “Hurts So Good”, it was clear the tattooed grandad had the near-sellout crowd of 13,000 directly under his 47-year-old thumb. Who cares if he can’t shimmy like he used to?

Neither can I.

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