R.O.C.K. in the S.O.E.C.
The June 14th concert at the South Okanagan Event Centre brought Canada's laid-back Cowboy Junkies and the rock and roll, country, blues, and folk mish mash of John Mellencamp together in a unique way.
The show started out relaxed in true Cowboy Junkies style as they led the crowd on an exploration of their four album series, Nomad. The stage was lightly lit, with an vase of flowers beside lead singer Margo Timmins, while several band members sat in chairs around her. It evoked the illusion of being present at a jam session in someone's living room after partaking of substances that would make one very mellow. The songs, as writer Michael Timmins said, are about "the delicate balancing act that makes up a life... in the wilderness of just trying to find meaning and substance, happiness and truth in one's day to day life."
When the band broke into Sweet Jane, a song that is melodic and haunting and more prone to inducing swaying bodies than fist pumping, the crowd stood up and cheered. The sound at the SOEC was great and every word and note were crystal clear. For me, just hearing that song live would have been well worth the price of admission.
A half-hour later John Mellencamp and his band, Michael Wanchic (guitar), Andy York (guitar), Miriam Sturm (violin), John Gunnell (electric and upright bass), Dane Clark (drums and percussion) and Troye Kinnett (accordion/keyboards) took the stage.
Mellencamp and his band had the audience in the palm of their hands from the very first note. He had the crowd singing with him for the Authority Song and kept them mesmerized as they continued with No One Cares About Me, Love and Happiness, Walk Tall, Key West, and Check It Out.
I've been a Mellencamp fan since the beginning and although John's voice is great, it has changed quite a bit since the '80s. There's a little more growl and a little less bark in his trademark sound, which was slightly reminiscent of Louise Armstrong at times that night.
Anyone who wasn't under Mellencamp's spell at this point soon would be as the band left the stage and Mellencamp stood alone with his guitar. He played the first few notes to Jack and Diane and the entire crowd was on their feet again. As it turned out the band wasn't needed for this or the next few songs as thousands of people provided back-up vocals for him. During Jackie Brown, Miriam Sturm briefly joined him on fiddle, with the crowd singing along like drunken sailors on leave.
Then it was time for a story about Mellencamp as a young man visiting his Grandma. She used to call him Buddy and chide him about his smoking and talk to him about sin. At one point, when praying, he told how his Grandma got very excited and shouted, "Me and Buddy are ready to come home!" At which point Mellencamp turned to his grandmother and said, "Buddy ain't ready to come home, he's got a lot more sinnin' to do." Then his grandmother turned to him and said, "Buddy, life is short even in its longest days."
At this point Mellencamp was joined by Andy York on acoustic as the pair performed Longest Days.
There were more jokes about his marriages, as he continued his almost solo acoustic show while the crowd sang vocals again with Small Town. There was a slight break as Sturmm on violin and Kinnett on accordion played Hymn, reminiscent of the haunting sounds of the Cowboy Junkies.
Then the band was back in full force with Scarecrow, follow by Ghost Towns, Paper in Fire, and If I Die Sudden. John Gunnell on bass and Dane Clark on drums proved once and for all the rhythm section truly is the backbone of any band. I found myself focusing on them and being mesmerized by the strong, deep, energy that pushed the band forward.
The band then launched into Crumbling Down. It was a full out rhythm section assault for this song. Very few stayed seated as the crowd sang along with abandon; their voices strong and happy, heard well above Mellencamp's band despite the decibel level.
R.O.C.K. in the USA and Pink Houses kept the crowd's energy high as Mellencamp and his well-rehearsed band unshackled any forms of self-consciousness left in the audience as they shouted and sang at the top of their lungs.
Mellencamp brought the tempo down a bit as he introduced everyone in the band before the broke into Cherry Bomb.
And then it was over. No amount of cheering, begging, shouting, or chants could bring Mellencamp back. I guess he's just one of those performers who loves to leave the crowd wanting more.
PHOTOS BY KIRSTIN WAKAL