John Mellencamp delivered his usual rousing arena show in New York on Friday night, complete with hits from “Pink Houses” to “Authority Song.” But he and his full band (minus backing singers) happened to be crammed onto a tiny stage inside SoHo’s Housing Works Bookstore — where they played to an audience of only 200 people. The intimacy of the charity show meant that Mellencamp got a closer look than usual at his fanbase. “Is anybody here under thirty?” he asked early on. When only a few people in the graying crowd cheered, he laughed and added, “I’m worried about the future!”
Scattered among the hits were several songs from Mellencamp’s upcoming new album, Life, Death, Love and Freedom (produced by T-Bone Burnett), which are some of his most downbeat and bluesy tunes ever, with lyrics that show a Time Out of Mind-style preoccupation with mortality. The crowd received the quieter new songs with respectful silence, and then went nuts for “If I Die Sudden,”which rode on a ZZ Top-style blues riff. During a solo acoustic version of the dark “Ride Back Home (Hey Jesus),” Mellencamp sang the line “My time’s come and gone,” and a fan immediately yelled back, “You’ve still got it, John!”
Mellencamp, who’s being inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in March, will tour Canada throughout February; his new album is due sometime later this year. Friday’s charity show marked the fifth anniversary of the Housing Works’ Live From Home series (founded by Rolling Stone contributor Alan Light), which raises money for homeless, HIV-positive New Yorkers.
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