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John Mellencamp triumphs in amazing fashion in San Francisco

John Mellencamp wanted to make one thing perfectly clear to the audience at San Francisco’s Golden Gate Theater:

“The older I get, the less I give an (expletive),” proclaimed the 71-year-old Hoosier. “I don’t give (expletive)”

Still, I think Mellencamp protests too much.

You don’t put on a fiery show like he did on Friday and don’t give (expletive). Indeed, his passion burned red hot during the little over two-hour concert, flipping through his songbook as convincingly as at any other time during a recording career stretching back to 1976’s debut “Johnny Cougar,” “Chestnut Street Incident.”

He still champions social issues through song, both in his older songs and the new ones he has written. His comments to the audience on Friday — the first half of a two-night stand at the venue — make it clear just how much the art of songcraft still matters to him. And he works very hard to put on a show that matters to both the audience and the musicians on stage.

So yes, Mellencamp still cares. He cares a lot about him.

And he certainly cares about old movies, something that was underscored during a 30-minute opening clip featuring clips from some of Mellencamp’s favorite classic films — including 1954’s “On the Waterfront” and 1960’s “The Fugitive Kind,” both starring Marlon Brando in the leading role. shown on a large screen in the center of the stage. However, this tie-in with tour sponsor Turner Classic Movies only worked moderately well, as crowd noise made it very difficult to hear dialogue.

Right around 8:30pm, the screen went up for the audience to watch Mellencamp and his amazing six-piece band launch into the deeply cut “John Cockers” from 2008’s “Life, Death, Love and Freedom.” The star was also joined onstage by a few creepy-looking movie star mannequins, including one that was supposed to be Brando and another that might have been Paul Newman — although it honestly looked just as much like Pee Wee Herman from my point of view.

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From that soft-sell opener, Mellencamp quickly shifted into high gear for a stellar three-song run through “Paper in Fire,” “Minutes to Memories,” and “Small Town,” the latter of which really got the crowd in the party mood. All of those songs were taken from Mellencamp’s two 1980s albums — ‘Scarecrow’ and ‘The Lonesome Jubilee’ — which rank as the best outings in his entire catalog. In total, eight of the 21 songs performed were from those two records.

Mellencamp then gave fans time to catch their breath as he moved from old fan favorites to some lesser-known tracks, including “Dear God,” “Jackie Brown,” and “Don’t Need This Body.”

“I can see from watching the audience that some of you people can identify with this,” Mellencamp said in the introduction to the aging ode “Don’t Need This Body.”



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