Bob Dylan and John Mellencamp kicked off their summer tour in Lincoln, Nebraska, yesterday, delivering two sets of spirited Americana nicely suited to Haymarket Park and its Midwestern surroundings. Mellencamp last played the venue as part of a Farm Aid benefit "100 years ago," he joked to the crowd. (The concert, for the record, was actually in 1987.) While his set favored crowd favorites and enduring deep cuts like "Pink Houses" and "Paper In Fire," Mellencamp also brought the crowd into the here-and-now, unveiling songs from his new T Bone Burnett-produced disc No Better Than This. One, "Save Some Time to Dream," was a gorgeously spare, Neil Young-ish country tune featuring tight rhythmic backup from his six-piece band. Meanwhile, Mellencamp reinvigorated classic tunes like "Cherry Bomb," which he freshened with an off-the-cuff a capella arrangement.
Dylan, sporting his trademark black suit and white cowboy hat, had nothing new to play. But he delivered an energetic set of classics, some with striking new arrangements. Soaring pedal steel guitar lent "Lay Lady Lay" a newfound vulnerability, "Just Like a Woman," became soft and reflective, and "Cold Irons Bound" sounded bold and jammy. The latter two showcased Dylan’s inimitable balance of the meditative and aggressive.
Dylan and Mellencamp's tour wraps in September, but Mellencamp will continue on this fall with sixteen Midwestern dates in support of No Better Than This. Unlike his immaculately produced '80s albums, Mellencamp wrote this record quickly, on acoustic guitar, and recorded it in mono on a 55-year-old Ampex tape recorder. "I looked at T Bone and I said, 'What the fuck were we doing in the '80s?'" Mellencamp told RS. "I made a record once that took almost a year. I spent millions of dollars dicking around with songs, and in the long run it paid off because it sold millions of copies. But I go back and I listen to the record today, and it was...more of a craftsman thing."
No Better is Mellencamp’s latest rootsy record in a series that began with 2003's blues and folk covers disc Trouble No More.To get the proper vibe, Mellencamp and Burnett cut the new disc in the legendary Sun Studios, San Antonio; Texas' Gunter Hotel (where Robert Johnson recorded tracks like "Terraplane Blues"); and the First African Baptist Church in Savannah, Georgia. The latter location — the oldest black church in America and a one-time stop on the Underground Railroad — struck a spiritual chord with Mellencamp and his wife Elaine, who decided to be baptized under the altar where Mellencamp had been recording.
The album may be stripped down, but Mellencamp plans an ambitious fall tour. There will be three different sections: a 30-minute "Sun Studio" set, a 30-minute acoustic set, and an hour of plugged-in tunes. And each show will start with a screening of Kurt Markus' It's About You, which chronicles the making of the record. "On those early tours [in the ‘50s], you went to see Gene Vincent, Buddy Holly, and the show started with a movie called The Girl Can't Help It," said Mellencamp, explaining his inspiration for showing the documentary. "It's not an original idea, but it's an idea that hasn't been done in decades."
The setlist for Mellencamp and Dylan's show — plus dates for Mellencamp's upcoming trek — are below.
John Mellencamp's Setlist
Paper in Fire
No Better Than This
Check It Out
Save Some Time to Dream
Cherry Bomb (Acapella)
Don’t Need This Body
Home on the Range
Rain on the Scarecrow
The West End
If I Die Sudden
Bob Dylan's setlist
Watching The River Flow
Lay Lady Lay
Most Likely You Go Your Way (and I’ll Go Mine)
Stuck Inside of Mobile with The Memphis Blues Again
Rollin’ and Tumblin’
Just Like A Woman
Cold Irons Bound
Workingman Blues #2
Highway 61 Revisited
Tryin’ to get to Heaven
Thunder on The Mountain
Ballad of a Thin Man
Like A Rolling Stone
All Along The Watchtower
Mellencamp's Fall Tour Dates
October 29 - Bloomington, IN @ Indiana University Auditorium
November 1 - Cincinnati, OH @ Music Hall
November 3 - Nashville, TN @ Ryman Auditorium
November 5 - Kansas City, MO @ The Midland by AMC
November 6 - St. Louis, MO @ Fabulous Fox Theatre
November 8 - Indianapolis, IN @ Clowes Memorial Hall
November 11 - Indianapolis, IN @ Hinkle Fieldhouse
November 13 - South Bend, IN @ Morris Performing Arts Center
November 16 - Fort Wayne, IN @ Embassy Theatre
November 17 - Cleveland, OH @ Palace Theatre
November 19 - Detroit, MI @ Fox Theatre
November 20 - Pittsburgh, PA @ Heinz Hall
November 22 - Minneapolis, MN @ Orpheum Theatre
November 23 - Minneapolis, MN @ Orpheum Theatre
November 26 - Chicago, IL @ Chicago Theatre
November 27 - Chicago, IL @ Chicago Theatre