MANSFIELD, MASS. — TO many pop music fans, John Mellencamp is a herald from the heartland, a mouthpiece for middle America and the common man - and also a musician who still rocks.
During the past 20 years, he has sold more than 30 million records worldwide, had handfuls of top singles, won a Grammy Award (1982, Best Male Rock Performance for ``Hurt So Good''), and been recognized for his humanitarian efforts (Farm Aid I through VI, benefits to help victims of the floods in the Midwest, and more).
While his image as an entertainer has evolved (John Cougar, man in muscle T-shirt, to John Mellencamp, artist and activist), the appeal of his music has remained relatively the same. In a summer rife with nostalgic reunions, aging-superstar comebacks, and overhyped festivals, Mellencamp is simply bringing his trusted brand of rock to his loyal fans.
Wednesday night, Mellencamp and his six-member backup band delivered two hours of stand-up rock at the sold-out Great Woods Center for the Performing Arts outside Boston. It was the second show of his extensive North American tour.
Although conscious of making the audience feel at home, Mellencamp hardly needed to make the effort.
He and his talented band played hit after familiar hit with a punchy high output that didn't miss a beat or take a break.
Dressed ``grandfatherly'' in a baggy plaid shirt and baggy pants, Mellencamp chewed gum, danced, and frequently raised his fist in the air, reinforcing the tough, hometown-kid image one envisions in many of his songs.
At times his vocals were drowned out by the audience singing along on: ``Jack and Diane,'' ``Hurts So Good,'' ``Authority Song'' to name a few.
After ``Lonely Ol' Night'' - a third of the way into the concert - he finally brought out his own guitar (up to this point he had been doing only the vocals), eliciting a roar from the audience.
This tour comes on the heels of Mellencamp's new release, ``Dance Naked,'' his 13th album, which has been described as a celebration of life's passions great and small. Recorded and mixed in a mere 14 days, the album thrives on spareness. As if to illustrate this, the stage set of the show was nondescript, even beige in color, and forced all visual attention to the musicians - refreshing in the age of eye candy and MTV.
The lively title track ``Dance Naked'' came No. 3 in the song lineup and gave Mellencamp the chance for some silliness: He let his baggy pants drop to his ankles and then scuttled around the stage in gray shorts.
The choice of songs included everything from arena anthems to small slice-of-life snapshots. The hard-hitting ``Rain on the Scarecrow'' gave way to ``Human Wheels,'' and ``Paper in Fire'' rumbled into the passionate ``Small Town.''
The appeal of Mellencamp's music is ``his cross between folk music and rock,'' says Boston resident Cary Stallings, who has seen Mellencamp five times. Simply put: ``He still rocks.''
* Mellencamp's tour continues: Portland, Maine (Aug. 6); Wantagh, N.Y. (Aug. 8, 9); Columbia, Md. (Aug. 10); Hershey, Penn. (Aug. 12); Holmdel, N.J. (Aug. 13, 17); Saratoga, N.Y. (Aug. 14); Philadelphia (Aug. 16); Rochester, N.Y. (Aug. 19); Columbus, Ohio (Aug. 21); Pittsburgh (Aug. 22); Detroit (Aug. 23); Toronto (Aug. 25); Cleveland (Aug. 26); Chicago (Aug. 27); Milwaukee (Aug. 29); Minneapolis (Aug. 30); Cincinnati (Sept. 1); St. Louis (Sept. 2); Vancouver (Sept. 8); Seattle (Sept. 9); San Francisco (Sept. 11); Los Angeles (Sept. 13, 14); San Bernardino, Calif. (Sept. 16); Phoenix (Sept. 17); Dallas (Sept. 20); Houston (Sept. 21); Atlanta (Sept 23, 24); Indianapolis (Sept. 27, 28, 30, and Oct. 1).