John Mellencamp Show at Connor Palace Nearly Derailed by Boorish Audience Members

Mellencamp brought some performative elements to a two-hour set filled with some of his best-known songs

click to enlarge John Mellencamp and his six-piece band - Photo by Eric Heisig
Photo by Eric Heisig
John Mellencamp and his six-piece band

John Mellencamp’s audience at the Connor Palace Thursday night, which included the type of loud and buffoonish concertgoers for which Cleveland is becoming known, should consider themselves lucky that he finished the show.

The singer/songwriter/rocker, in town for two shows at Playhouse Square for his “Live and In Person” tour, put on a strong performance that featured some of his best-known songs over nearly two hours. It also featured portions that seemed designed to prove he is a serious artist, even if he should know he has nothing to prove.

But it all could have easily ended early. Signs posted in the lobby said that, “This show respects theater etiquette.” And early on, Mellencamp told the crowd that "I don’t like people screaming from the fucking audience."

Later, as people continued talking and after a boorish concertgoer yelled at him to “play the fucking music” when he dared to say something that could be construed as criticizing the U.S., he had enough.

“Listen, hey, you guys, if these people don’t shut the fuck up I’m just going to leave, OK?” Mellencamp said. “Because I’m not used to this crap. Look, guys, if I wanted to play in this type of drunken environment, I’d play outside or I’d play in an arena.”

Luckily, the crowd was better behaved for the rest of the show, though a little intervention by venue staff may have helped. And Mellencamp showed that at age 71, he still has the chops to play to a crowd of any size.

Dressed in a mechanic’s jumpsuit, he showed that time (and cigarettes, which he puffed on at various points) has not diminished his voice, even if it is deeper and raspier than his younger days.

click to enlarge John Mellencamp in Cleveland - Photo by Eric Heisig
Photo by Eric Heisig
John Mellencamp in Cleveland

Leading a six-piece band, Mellencamp opened with “John Cockers” from 2008’s Life, Death, Love and Freedom. He quickly got to the hits, though, starting with “Paper in Fire,” ending with “Hurts So Good” and making a lot of stops in between.

The Seymour, Indiana native proved that he is among the great singles artists of his generation, with singalongs to “Small Town,” “Pink Houses” and an acoustic “Jack & Diane.”

And while some may quibble with the setlist and complain about what he omitted, the selections made for the perfect introduction for those who may not be familiar with his most famous work from the 1980s and 1990s. Most of the tunes from the 18-song setlist are on his 2004 greatest hits set Words & Music with subject matter ranging from love-making to the plight of modern-day farmers.

If there were any quibbles, it’s that Mellencamp seems hell-bent on proving that he is a serious artist. His decision to open the show with a 30-minute series of classic movie clips (during which the boos and calls for Mellencamp to take the stage grew louder, because remember, this was a Cleveland audience) was an attempt to show some of his inspirations.

He also told the crowd that he envisioned the show as less a concert and more of a performance. It showed, right down to his decision to play in front of a picture of a set piece from the 1951 film A Streetcar Named Desire.

While nothing about these things seemed inauthentic, it was at odds with the man on stage singing “that's when a sport was a sport and groovin' was groovin’.”

Sometimes art can be just fun, and Mellencamp’s music has long since proved that. It would be nice if he remembered that sometimes.

1. John Cockers
2. Paper in Fire
3. Minutes to Memories
4. Small Town
5. Human Wheels
6. Jackie Brown
7. Check It Out
8. The Eyes of Portland (acoustic)
9. Longest Days (acoustic)
10. Jack & Diane (acoustic)
11. The Real Life (Joanne Woodward spoken word recording with live instrumental backing)
12. Rain on the Scarecrow
13. Lonely Ol' Night
14. What If I Came Knocking
15. Crumblin’ Down/Gloria
16. Pink Houses
17. Cherry Bomb
18. Hurts So Good

Eric Heisig is a freelance writer in Cleveland. He can be reached at [email protected].

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