Monday, February 18, 2008

John Mellencamp w/ Tom Cochrane -- MTS Centre, Monday, February 11th, 2008

Well, all right! Louis Riel Day is upon us, and we've already established what my plans are for the day -- but before I get around to that, let's get started on working through the various backlogged items of interest that I've accrued during my extended tour of canine service.

It's not often I do this, so gather around -- I'm about to express some strong civic pride, in the form of an anecdote about a show I went to last week.

This past Monday I was in attendance for the John Mellencamp concert at the MTS Centre; I'm no more familiar with Mellencamp (Cougar-Mellencamp?) than the next twentysomething who's really tired of hearing Our Country in truck ads, but he's had more albums than I've had birthdays and it's usually a safe bet on general principle that you'll get a good show out of a Grammy-winning Rock and Roll Hall of Famer. Besides that, Mellencamp wasn't even my primary reason for going; the main draw for me was the opening act, because I believe very strongly that there is no such thing as paying too much money to see Tom Cochrane live.

(Mind you, the last time I saw him in concert was years ago at the Red River Ex, and as such his show was included in the minimum admission -- so I figure I'm running a decent price average on his live performances. Parenthetical aside! Moving on.)

Of course, the problem with Tom Cochrane as an opening act is that you know you aren't going to get enough Tom Cochrane, and sure enough that was the case with this show. My little brother and I spent the drive home alternatingly listing our favorite Cochrane tunes that weren't included -- "He didn't play Paper Tigers!" "He didn't play Pictures from the Edge!" "There was no Just Like Ali!" "Or Good Man Feeling Bad!" "He didn't even play I Wish You Well! How is that possible?" But such are the dangers.

Tom Cochrane is a hometown hero, as we all know, and the crowd of eleven thousand was stoked to see him; the value of playing to your home crowd is that they're going to cheer anything you say, and Tom had a grand time milking the dickens out of this knowledge.

"I grew up fishing at Lynn Lake! I wrote this campfire song about it! Here's Good Times!"
"Minor-league hockey is what keeps our Manitoba communities strong! This one's called Big Leagues!"
"My mother is from Gimli! Manitoba women are tough women! That's why I wrote this next song!"

It was a nice sentiment, but dude, come on. We're already proud of you. My loyalties are secure and unshakeable; you don't need to go "CHURCHILL HAS POLAR BEARS HERE IS OCEAN BLUE" or whatever to ensure my continued support.

Anyway, so Tom Cochrane was as awesome as always, and everybody marked out for Life is a Highway just as you'd expect. As much as I love Cochrane, this isn't the part of the story where my sudden civic pride comes into play. No, that part came during the headlining act -- and what an act it was!

As I'd said earlier, I've never been too big into Mellencamp's studio work; his softest singles are his most played, I'm tired of hearing him in advertisements, I could live my entire life without listening to Jack and Diane ever again, how many songs can you write about America, etcetera etcetera so on and so forth. But holy damn, does that man ever work hard on stage. His songs are all pretty simple, but he gears up and just gleefully rampages through them like King Ghidorah across the Japanese countryside. You have never seen a fifty-six-year-old white guy dance so well in your entire life.

He played all the hits you would expect, and he played them well; hell, he even played Human Wheels, and I'd forgotten (assuming I ever knew) that it was his song in the first place. Nine-year-old me loved that song! I hadn't remembered what the words were or what it was called or who had written it, because I was nine at the time -- but when the band launched into it on Monday, I recognized it within two bars and gave this excited little gasp of happiness because fifteen years of mystery had just cleared themselves up. Human Wheels! Whooooooooo!

Eventually, perhaps inevitably, he took the stage by himself halfway through the show and performed Small Town; I've never really liked the song, but I was one year old when it came out so I am willing to acknowledge that there may be a generational disconnect in play. Anyway, while he was playing it, the stage crew production team threw up a reel of Winnipeg-themed images onto the giant screen behind him; I'm sure they've done this without fail a million times, and I wouldn't doubt that it pulls the cheap pop every time in every city.

It worked this time, too, of course; when our local landmarks and our old maps popped up on the jumbotron, a big cheer went up just as you'd expect. Bizarrely, though, the cheering trailed off and disappeared just a few images into the slideshow; I thought this was pretty funny, and it might well have died down for the exact reasons I was thinking. "Hey! Winnipeg! Yaaaay! That's us! We're a small town! Yaaa--er... wait..."

So Mellencamp kept playing, this PowerPoint presentation of local interest images kept scrolling, and the crowd reaction remained tepid after the initial reaction. The fishfly bridge came up on screen, a few people clapped; the 'One Great City!' sign came up on screen and the cheering increased again.

Now, this is the kicker. This was the highlight of my night. The final photograph of the collection, the shot they'd specifically saved for last, was a full-screen picture of the green "Manitoba: Spirited Energy" banner -- and when that last picture hit, the crowd of eleven thousand strong united as one voice and booed the living shit out of it.

Man alive, it was glorious. You've never seen a crowd turn on something so suddenly, so viciously and so vehemently, as if shocked and wounded and insulted all at once -- and, if you have seen a crowd turn like that, I'd imagine you were endlessly thankful that the crowd wasn't turning on you.

I can't credit Mellencamp enough for his complete lack of reaction; he just kept playing the song, didn't miss a beat, never lost his composure once. Maybe the whole thing was an elaborate rib and he was in on the joke to begin with. Either way, well played; I know I sure enjoyed it, albeit for entirely the wrong reasons.

I'll admit it was a strange thing to gleam a sense of civic pride from, but you know what? Hell with it! This was the most kinship with my fellow citydwellers that I've felt in a long time. It isn't easy to try and define what brings Winnipeggers together; the city's biggest successes were eighty or ninety years ago, our downtown has been a crumbling husk for decades, our public community television was mercilessly exterminated eleven years ago, and our professional sports teams (or rather, the professional sports teams that we still have) have ranged from disappointing to soul-shatteringly awful. But for all the difficulty one might find in trying to establish the city's common character traits, it's nice to know that there are still some things we can all unite around -- or at least, some things that we can all find common ground in opposing strongly.

Togetherness! That's what it's all about. If we could sandbag Spirited Energy, we would!

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