John Mellencamp triumphs in incredible fashion in San Francisco

Singer-songwriter John Mellencamp brought his “Live and in Person” tour to San Francisco’s Golden Gate Theater on the 17th-18th. March. (Rich Fury/Associated Press archives)

John Mellencamp wanted to make one thing abundantly clear to the crowd at the Golden Gate Theater in San Francisco:

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

Still, Mellencamp protests too much, he believes.

You don’t put on a fiery show like he did on Friday and not give a (statement). Indeed, his passion was red-hot throughout the roughly two-hour concert, as he ran through his songbook as convincingly as he has at any point in a recording career dating back to his 1976 “Johnny Cougar” debut , “Chestnut Street Incident.”

He still champions social issues through song, both in the older numbers and in the new ones he has written. His comments to the crowd on Friday – which was the first half of a two-night stand at the venue – make it clear how much the art of songwriting still means something to him. And he works hard to put on a show that means something to both the audience and the musicians on stage.

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

And he certainly cares about old movies, which was underscored during a 30-minute opening segment in which excerpts from some of Mellencamp’s favorite classic films — including 1954’s “On the Waterfront” and 1960’s “The Fugitive Kind,” both starring Marlon Brando the main role – there shown on the big screen in the middle of the stage. However, this association with tour sponsor Turner Classic Movies worked only moderately well, as the noise from the crowd made it very difficult to hear the dialogue.

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Right around 8:30 p.m., the screen lifted to allow the audience to watch Mellencamp and his superb six-piece band launch into the deep cut “John Cocker” from 2008’s “Life, Death, Love and Freedom.” The star was also accompanied onstage by some creepy movie star dummies, including one that was supposed to be Brando and another that might have been Paul Newman — though, frankly, it looked at least as much like Pee Wee Herman from my vantage point.

From that soft-sell opener, Mellencamp quickly shifted into high gear for a great three-song run through ‘Paper in Fire’, ‘Minutes to Memories’ and ‘Small Town’, the latter of which really got the crowd into party mode. All of those tracks came from Mellencamp’s two ’80s 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 these two records.

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

“I can tell by looking out at the audience that some of you can relate to this,” Mellencamp said in the introduction to the coming-of-age ode “Don’t Need This Body.”

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