John Mellencamp’s ‘Plain Spoken’ turns to Milwaukee

John Mellencamp has made his rounds to Milwaukee on not so distant tours. The ‘Plain Spoken’ tour following the release of his 2014¬†Plain Spoken album returned to the Riverside Theater in a near-sold out show that felt nothing less than the rush of good feelings expected with Mellencamp’s timeless singles.

The 63 year old singer-songwriter had much to share with a crowd that grew up on his life’s work. Working through a quick four songs, wrapping with “Small Town”, Mellencamp stepped up to greet fans, “thank you very much, I’m John Mellencamp, now we’re gonna be doing all kinds of songs. Songs you know, songs you don’t know, songs you can sing to and songs you can dance to!” before continuing into the meat of his performance.

Following “Small Town,” John gave a little dance leading into a gritty, vintage cover of “Stones in My Passway”. Mellencamp, often laid back and living in the moment, frequently stepped back to admire his band – very skilled and fluidly working with John.

The ‘Plain Spoken’ tour pushed material from the new album, but it was staples like¬†“Small Town,” “Jack & Diane,” and “Pink Houses” that really made the night special for longtime fans. Most sang along and danced to what they knew, especially “Check It Out”.

The prohibition era feel to the dress and instruments including a towering stand up bass and involved violinist came together well with Mellencamp’s weathered acoustic guitar, Fender telecaster, and powerfully gritty vocals.

As Mellencamp toyed with his guitar, “this next song I been playin’ an awful long time, not sure why I play it anymore except you guys wanna hear it,” brought the set into a solo acoustic version of “Jack & Diane”. Fans got a little ahead of themselves, taking the song into the chorus right away, skipping the second verse, Mellencamp stopping the song for a laugh.

For a handful of songs, Mellencamp wasn’t afraid to take the show on his own or just a part of his band. The set was distinctive and gave a snapshot into his life transcending different times and condensed into one neatly organized set. An interesting peak into an all-American musician with lively, organic, and vintage music, fans were able to relive growing up on Mellencamp’s soulful hits.

Mellencamp’s new material from ‘Spoken Word’ had its place in the set, and so did his most recognized work. A few early in the show were a bit slow, but solo performances and different arrangements kept it continually interesting.

You’re going to hear what you know, and some of what you don’t, but the show is far more an experience than just another concert.

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