Decades later, Mellencamp still wows audience at Leon’s Centre

Aging rocker plays hits for crowd and proves relevance

John Mellencamp at the Leon's Centre on Thursday Oct. 4, 2018.
Credit: 
Photo by Bernard Clark

Last Thursday, I time traveled for the first time.

That night, John Mellencamp and his band took the entire Leon’s Centre for a trip back to the ’80s, serving heaping doses of nostalgia to rock fans as they relived his glory years. 

At 67 years-old, Mellencamp belongs to another time. His early concerts didn’t have cell phones flashing constantly through slow songs, and over-the-top special effects were rarely the main draw to his concerts. Instead, he built a committed fanbase through earnest,powerful songwriting. 

Each song is a love letter to his fans, and it transcends any time period. This is music to take a lighter out and sway to, regardless of your age. 

Mellencamp took us back to a time of pure, soulful rock ‘n roll on Thursday—with of course a hint of country from his new album Sad Clowns & Hillbillies.  Never in my life have I seen an audience, or even myself, so captivated by an artist. His stage presence was a powerful lesson in the fundamentals of a strong performance, with from-the-heart delivery.

When Mellencamp croons “Jack and Diane,” you can fool yourself into believing it’s his first time playing the tune. 

I’ll be honest: I never thought I would go—or even have the opportunity to go—to a John Mellencamp concert. 

As any self-respecting student, I would be guaranteed to choose a Kendrick Lamar or Luke Bryan concert over him. At least I would’ve before last Thursday’s concert.

Mellencamp opened my eyes to a whole new kind of artist and performer. I’d never seen a musician make such a raw connection with the audience and his fellow musicians on stage. As they played off one another, with easy camaraderie and a joyful performance, it made up for Mellencamp’s age. 

It was music for its own sake, played for fans that hung around long after hit singles stopped arriving. For the younger audience members, it proved classic rock songs could still carry all the heft they did in their hey-day. 

As a student, I felt like I’d missed something when I left the Leon’s Centre. Mellencamp was proof that yesterday’s music still mattered, regardless of popularity. 

After turning 67 years old, he’s still rocking out as hard as he was when his 1982 hit “Jack and Diane” dropped. Mellencamp’s still one of the most urgent and motivated artists there is. The decades since his classic releases were nothing when he was on stage last Thursday. 

Mellencamp lived up to his well-deserved title as a legend—thanks to little more than a guitar. 

 

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