Reviewed by Gabi P. Remz
ohn Mellencamp's performance was a night of challenges to the nearly 5,000 fans in attendance. Playing six songs from his T Bone Burnett-produced album out the next day, "Life Death Love and Freedom," Mellencamp urged fans to enjoy and embrace the unfamiliar.
Fans responded warmly to the first new song, "My Sweet Love," played 4 songs into the 100-minute show, the first of 2 nights. Mellencamp lowered the energy level a bit for the fresh tune, as it came following, a passionate rendition of "I'm Not Running Anymore." That included such delights as a Mellencamp shimmy and a quick, graceful flip of the mic while taking a breath.
This first challenge was a success for Mellencamp, who was able to seamlessly mix in the new with the old. Mellencamp gave a full effort to entertain in every song, often accompanying an instrumental with an inventive dance move or his seemingly favorite move, the "Jump and Pump," where he would jump in the air, violently extend a leg and pump his fist, clearly demonstrating his overwhelming passion.
Mellencamp was not the only one who stood out. Violinist Miriam Sturm was striking in her ability to complement Mellencamp on stage. She started "Check It Out" with a zealous solo, setting the high energy level for the rest of the band, as well as for the audience. Sturm was the strongest force behind Mellencamp, but was also matched at times by guitarist Andy York, who additionally provided back-up vocals.
The second challenge Mellencamp gave was a simple one, as prior to his performance of "Jena," his powerful new song condemning the events surrounding the infamous Jena 6 in Louisiana, he implored fans to eradicate racism. Mellencamp revealed a heartfelt story about being in a band at age 14 while another band member who was black, faced racism from many, even though the black member was arguably the most talented member. With lyrics such as "Some day some way sanity will prevail" and "Take your nooses down" while the video screen behind the band flashed photographs of Martin Luther King, Mellencamp portrayed his dream to end racism and the crowd once again responded with powerful ovations.
Mixed in with his anti-racism remarks were Mellencamp's numerous references to high gas prices and the current Iraq war. For his one-song encore, Mellencamp performed "The Authority Song," which certainly took on new meaning since he first released the hit in 1983.
Mellencamp challenged his audience a final time, telling the fans to sing along with him so loud that "Washington D.C. will hear us." And once again, the fans did as Mellencamp wished, not only singing along, but also dancing, some even up and down the aisles. The overwhelming energy of Mellencamp and the crowd as "The Authority Song" came to an end perfectly reflected a triumphant night of challenges from John Mellencamp.
Lucinda Williams opened for Mellencamp, eager to perform three new songs from her upcoming album, due out in September. Williams revealed her wonderfully swampy voice with unequivocal fervor throughout her 55-minute stint, but, unfortunately, few were there early enough to see her. Williams clearly acknowledged that fact, but was gracious nonetheless, as prior to opening her set with "Passionate Kisses," she thanked the sparse crowd for arriving early.
The many fans that filed in after the 7:30 start of the show should regret this fact, as Williams played "Passionate Kisses" solo on an acoustic guitar, which enabled her voice to shine. She quickly transitioned from that to an exciting, upbeat version of a new song "Real Love" with her backing quartet joining her.
Several of Williams' songs exposed a real sense of negativity towards relationships, the pinnacle of which was reached during "Come On" where Williams sang in her strongest voice of the night, "You can't light my fire so f--- off!"
Drummer Butch Norton, bedecked in a cowboy hat, was also impressive, playing several songs with one hand, shaking a tambourine with other and holding his second drumstick in his mouth. Williams was a superb opening to a successful night of rootsy, heartland music.