John Mellencamp “Sad Clowns & Hillbillies” Tour 2017
With a tour title like the one above I was expecting an old-fashioned circus-themed vaudeville act but what I got instead was something totally different. John Mellencamp and friends made a stop in the DFW area last night and brought a very appreciative Verizon Theatre audience to their feet numerous times throughout the show. In what has become a small trend amongst older music acts, he brought along entertainers he likes to work with and made an enjoyable evening turn fantastic.
Opening act Carlene Carter needs no introduction to the casual country music fan as she has been on the scene since the late 70’s but she had a little help this time around with the new country duo Lily & Madeleine. Their short 25-minute set was full of high-energy songs that were just what the night needed to get started in the right direction. Carlene proved that she still has the voice to make your feet get going and Lily & Madeleine were a nice breath of fresh air. Even though their time on the stage was short, we would see them all again a little later.
With a career spanning nearly 50 years now, one would think that Emmylou Harris would be slowing down a bit but her performance last night showed quite the difference was true. At 70 years young, her voice was still superb and her interactions with the audience sincere. “Here I Am” displayed her beautifully layered vocals and caught the audience’s attention really quick. She was wearing jeans and a Texas Rangers baseball t-shirt and looked more like a mom running errands than a 13 time Grammy award winner, but her voice left no mistake about who she was. “Orphan Girl” was highlighted by Phil Madeira’s wonderful accordion playing, the instruments during “Red Dirt Girl” drowned out her voice a bit but it was on full display during a stirring rendition of Merle Haggard’s “Kern River”.
Carlene, Lily and Madeleine made the first of their guest appearances during “Even Cowgirls Get the Blues” and I had a bit of sensory overload listening to those four sweet voices at the same time. For the first time ever at a concert, I had the feeling that my dad would have loved hearing that particular song. Paying homage to the great Townes Van Zandt, she played a beautiful version of “Pancho & Lefty” – some 40 years after covering it for the first time. Not quite done yet, Emmylou & her band treated the audience to a simple/quiet “Michelangelo” as her vocals soared throughout the hall, an up tempo “Born to Run” and a great covered of Dion’s “Abraham, Martin and John”. Chris Donohue on bass, Bryan Owings on drums, Will Kimbrough on guitar and the aforementioned Phil Madeira were all excellent during Emmylou’s set.
Entering the stage to thunderous applause, John Mellencamp looked ready to rock the audience but if you were just expecting the same old “pop/rock” that you remembered from the 80’s – you would be sadly disappointed. From the very first Blues note of “Lawless Times”, John and his big band set the tone for a set full of everything from blues to country to rock and a whole lot of all three mixed in together. The blues do seem like a big departure from what the MTV audience remembers (you should have heard the song “John Cockers”), but John’s voice has worked well in any genre that he’s chosen.
Reaching way back to 1985’s Scarecrow album, they played “Minutes to Memories”, “Small Town” and my favorite “Rain on the Scarecrow”: the first one was Americana at it’s finest, the second brought the audience to their feet at the first beats of the unmistakable drum intro as it was more robust than the original recording with many more sounds and vocals and the last was pure brilliance with Lily & Madeleine singing backing vocals. The guitar intro to Robert Johnson’s “Stones in My Passway” was fantastic and John’s vocals did the old song justice. Mixing it up a bit, “Pop Singer” had a different vibe and tune to it and “Check It Out” was highlighted by some gorgeous fiddle work.
John took a few moments during the show to speak to the audience and one of the highlights was when he introduced “Jack and Diane” as “a song I wrote when I was 26 years old and I’m not sure why I still play it other than ya’ll want to hear it”. He also played three songs from his newest album Sad Clowns & Hillbillies just released in April: “Grandview” with help from Carlene Carter, “My Souls Got Wings” with Emmylou Harris (an old-fashioned foot-stomping/hand clapping spiritual) and then the very moving “Easy Target”. A very interesting instrument overture played by the fiddle & accordion allowed john & the rest of the band to catch their breath for a minute.
Stepping back out to great applause, he ripped through the aforementioned “”Rain on the Scarecrow”, “Paper in Fire” with a new, different arrangement that sounded great and “Crumblin’ Down” which gave the organ & drums greatly expanded roles with a small drum solo and more Lily & Madeleine helping out. Finishing strong with a mini-greatest hits trio of songs, John led his band through a very up tempo “Authority Song”, a fine rendition of “Pink Houses” and an eclectic “Cherry Bomb” to fill his fans hearts to the fullest.
Verizon Theatre was lucky to book this magnificent concert this time around and Music Blend was lucky enough to be there. It’s not everyday that one gets to see so much talent in one place and we’re thankful that John Mellencamp put together such a strong touring group.