John Mellencamp with Son Volt at Freedom Hall

By Jason Koerner

Son Volt. Yes, you read that correctly. Sounds like ReVolt (as in the effect they had on my ears). However, despite the temptation Son Volt provided for me to run screaming from Freedom Hall, my dad and I stuck around, and John Mellencamp made it well worth our perseverance. I guess alt-country just isn't my thing.

Opening bands aside, the concert was everything I expected and more. Considering the thirty-five dollar a seat ticket prices (which I would normally not have expected to pay for one good act), it damn well should have been. In spite of the high ticket price, the crowd seemed to fill every seat in the house, so apparently no one thought their money had been wasted. The stage however, couldn't have cost more than thirty-five dollars to construct (including the labor of a ten-man staff), so we know where the money didn't go. Since they certainly couldn't have paid Son Volt that much, we can only assume that the money went to those who truly earned it: the small army that is John Mellencamp's band, not to mention the man himself.

I had never heard John Mellencamp live before, and though the cheap monotony of the multi-leveled gray stage, accented by colored lights, left me with my doubts, the music compensated for the concert's low-budget persona. After all, it's always possible that the stage was exactly as Mellencamp wanted it, and he was trying to make a subtle statement that I totally missed. (It's equally possible that I have been completely spoiled by the massive and elaborate set up of Rob Zombie's stage in his April concert.)

While there's no denying that John Mellencamp is a talented musician, he is also, as his songs reflect, a small-town boy. As well liked as he may be in New York or China, or wherever, while playing Louisville, he was close enough to his home state, Indiana, to be something of a local celebrity, and I think everyone could feel the way the crowd responded to that.

In addition to the love due a hometown hero, audiences tend to appreciate performers who write what they've lived and know, rather than covering others' songs or having someone create an image for them. The tour name, "Rural Electrification Tour," says it all. With older hits such as "Small Town" and "Scarecrow" evolving into more modern tunes like "Wild Nights," Mellencamp shows his transition from farm boy to famous musician. With Mellencamp, it's obvious that his energy and his performances come from the heart, not from a plan to maintain a fan-generated status. His show both gave him sympathy from the crowd, many of whom were familiar with his themes and imagery - due to the demo- and geographic area - and gave them a glimpse of a more glamorous life. In many ways, it felt as though Mellencamp might be saying "I got out, anyone can get out and make it big."

My apologies go out to my readers for the lack of a picture of the show. I did take them, but unfortunately, they did not develop well enough to print (that's a first). It is very hard to overcome the 50 feet or so distance from the stage, the absence of a flash (c/o ever-present Camera Nazis), and the heads and bodies of screaming fans in front of me. I will assume for my own benefit that there was absolutely nothing wrong with my camera work, and that the photo shop was merely prejudiced against John Mellencamp.