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Pop Music Review

Mellencamp Skillfully Revisits Repertoire

May 10, 1999|STEVE APPLEFORD

John Mellencamp has made his own world. Once merely an also-ran member of the Seger-Springsteen-Petty school of Everyman rock, the Indiana native has proven himself a dependable hit-maker, crafting eclectic, easily digested, feel-good music.

At the Hollywood Bowl on Saturday, Mellencamp performed his repertoire with energy and finesse. He stretched out "Jack & Diane" with new beats and violin passages without abandoning the hit's catchy, street-corner vibe, and he found real tension in "Scarecrow," the 1985 farmland anthem that confirmed his serious intentions.

If Mellencamp never quite fulfilled the promise of that record, he's continued to mine Midwestern ideals and despair to memorable effect. It was when he was left alone on stage with a harmonica and acoustic guitar to ponder the lessons explored on his new "Your Life Is Now" that the singer carried the most emotional weight.

But Mellencamp only occasionally picked up that acoustic guitar, choosing instead to keep himself free to clap and sway his hips to the choreographed gyrations of "R.O.C.K. in the U.S.A." and the soulful "Wild Night."

Son Volt, the opening act, represents a different generation of heartland rock, with its own rough-hewn take on the folk roots of American pop. The most effective songs of the band's set tended toward country and suggested a longing rooted in real experience, not romantic fantasy. There was welcome energy in the Crazy Horse-style guitar wind-outs of Dave Boquist, even if Son Volt hasn't yet extended its range beyond solid, driving, country-flavored rock.

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