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POP REVIEW : A Grand Old Time From Mellencamp

February 20, 1992|CHRIS WILLMAN | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

This is quite a week in the media for rocker John Mellencamp and his public neuroses--if not necessarily at the Forum in Inglewood, then in plenty of other forums.

His quietly impressive film directorial debut, "Falling from Grace," opens Friday, telling the story of a burned-out country star whose fame and womanizing can't stop him from sinking into a mire of helpless depression.

The March issue of Esquire magazine features an article titled "Jack and Diane Are Dead," a not entirely flattering profile of Mellencamp as a burned-out, divorced pop star whose fame and womanizing haven't stopped him from sinking into a mire of helpless depression.

And on Tuesday, Mellencamp brought his crack touring band to the Forum, in support of his latest album--the musically up-tempo but lyrically downbeat "Whenever We Wanted"--which more or less tells tales of a burned-out pop star whose fame and . . . well, you get the idea.

A populist poster boy no more, the ambitious Americana-rocker who once would have saved the farmers is now deserting the soapbox and admitting he can't save himself. Which may make him more or less admirable, depending on whether you see art's highest aim as inspiration or reflection.

So why did this publicly unhappy camper seem to be putting all his woes aside and having such a grand old time at the Forum? Sublimation and denial? Or just rising to the occasion in the best show-biz tradition of the-tour-must-go-on?

In either case, Mellencamp's show was a good 'un, all fun and no nonsense, irrelevant as its purely celebratory tone was to the current concerns reflected in his new movie, album, paintings and other media of choice.

In the two-hour show (broken up by a half-hour intermission), the Indiana native played only a few songs from his latest recording--pointedly avoiding such telling numbers as "I Ain't Ever Satisfied," but including the album's two frothiest tunes, "Get a Leg Up" (a puzzlingly pointless paean to a sexual threesome) and "Again Tonight," whose dogged approach toward fun might have been the theme song for the tour.

But if the emphasis wasn't on the more personal material from his last two albums, neither was it on the political songs from the two rabble-rousing records that preceded them.

He did mention the upcoming return of Farm Aid and sang "Rain on the Scarecrow," but this was hardly the centerpiece of the set.

Instead, this seemed like the return of the non-fretting fellow who used to (and still does) sing "Hurts So Good," who just wants his audience to have a good time.

They'll hate his movie, but they loved this show, and with good reason. Fiddler Lisa Germano, who wasn't on the latest album, is happily back in the band, and stalwart drummer Kenny Aronoff is still around with the friendliest backbeat in rock, among others that make up the trademark Mellencamp sound.

Mellencamp may have fallen from grace, and Jack and Diane may be dead, but maybe "the thrill of living" ain't gone just yet.

* \o7 Mellencamp plays a second show at the Forum tonight.

\f7

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