John Cougar Mellencamp sells seats, not principles, in Vancouver

chris cameron photo

ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED IN THE GEORGIA STRAIGHT, MARCH 25, 1988

By Steve Newton

Some guys have it and some guys don’t. A great band, that is. Springsteen had one when he played here in 1984. And the latest hero of the American heartland, John Cougar Mellencamp, had one at the sold-out Coliseum last Saturday (March 19). Mellencamp was definitely the star of that show, but without such a killer band he would not have shone nearly as brightly.

The shrieking fiddle intro to “Paper in Fire” kicked the concert off, and the lights went up to show Mellencamp and his eight-piece outfit spread out over a beautiful, multi-level wooden stage. In the middle was a raised platform on which drummer Kenny Aronoff, accordionist John Cascella, fiddle player Lisa Germano, and backup vocalists Pat Peterson and Crystal Taliefero did their thing. Guitarist Larry Crane was up front at stage right, co-guitarist Mike Wanchic and bassist Toby Myers over to his left, and Mellencamp somewhere in the middle.

That’s how the show began, but before long every part of the stage was open territory, and the band members (particularly Crane) shucked and jived to wherever they wanted. While his musicians and backup singers spun around and leap about, Mellencamp played the dancing (American) fool, drawing great cheers for his efforts (especially when he did the splits).

Mellencamp and his band kept the wild pace up for over two hours, taking a break midway through to catch their breath. The band stole the show from Mellencamp on the real rockers like “Authority Song” and “Rain On the Scarecrow”–drummer Aronoff losing drumsticks left and right as he walloped out the latter tune’s beat. Mellencamp was clever enough to fire up his most boring song, “Play Guitar”, with liberal doses of “Gloria” and “Wild Thing”.

At one point he pulled off the Springsteen trick of lifting a young lady up on-stage and twisting with her. But the biggest crowd response came during “Crumbling Down”, when one of his shapely background singers somersaulted across the stage to do a little of the old bump-and-grind with John. The last song of the regular set was “Pink Houses”, a tune that does nothing for yours truly, but went over very well with most of the crowd.

During his encore, Mellencamp took a shot at the exploitation of great rock songs in commercials, particularly Nike’s use of “Revolution” to sell shoes. “I don’t know about you guys,” he shouted, “but music to me has always been more than a TV commercial.” Then he headed into Dylan’s “Like a Rolling Stone”, which showcased the incredibly powerful lead vocals of Pat Peterson. The lights came on as the band ended off with the nostalgic toe-tapper, “Cherry Bomb”.

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