John Mellencamp leaves ’em hangin’ at Seneca Niagara (2014)


If you took the kids to celebrate Independence Eve with the Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra at Coca Cola Field on July 3, one could argue that your level of satisfaction surpassed anything John Mellencamp carried to the plate at Seneca Niagara Casino last night. While both events boasted sell-out crowds, the synthesis of baseball, beaming smiles, and outstanding classical musicality had to have provided more bang for your buck.

I say that, because, as incendiary as Mellencamp was at times, I guarantee that the first-class organization responsible for post-game entertainment at the ballpark didn’t pull the plug just as things started to heat up.

But that’s exactly what the artist formerly known as John Cougar did.

After instilling an oddly funereal vibe into the early portion of his set, he flicked a switch and somehow rallied the crowd into a frenzy by firing off “Crumblin’ Down,” “R.O.C.K. in the U.S.A,” “Pink Houses,” “Authority Song” and “Cherry Bomb” in rapid fire succession to close out the show. It was a cyclonic stretch that justified numerous outlets rating him as one of the must-see acts in western New York this summer.

Not only did the fans crave more, they deserved more, especially from a hall-of-famer with 21 studio albums to his credit.

We’ve reached a point in 2014 where the relationship between audience and performer carries with it the assumption that the call for an encore will be answered following a brief break in the action. You know the drill.  The lights dim, the band escapes to the back, and the gathered proceed to scream bloody murder until their heroes return for another number to justify the hefty sum spent on the opportunity to see them.

In Mellencamp’s case, when he left, he really left, leaving everyone puzzled as to how he could walk away after churning out a mere 14 songs in 75 minutes.

Such an abrupt conclusion appeared fitting for a show that was anything but expected, because it wasn’t until the monologue leading into “Longest Days” that he allowed a sliver of personality to pierce through his otherwise curmudgeonly skin. The fact that he and his talented ensemble sounded excellent in spite of this going-through-the-motions phase made it impossible not to brood over what could’ve been.

“Rain on the Scarecrow,” for instance, was easily the song of the night while illustrating what can happen when Mellencamp’s knack for hard-driving melody converges with his dogged empathy for the American farmer to produce something that still cuts deep nearly 30 years after its release.

I loved it and wish we had been treated to similar moments later on. We can only speculate as to what was going through Mellencamp’s mind as the evening progressed, but it’s clear he wasn’t feeling the love to the degree we all hoped he would.

He came, performed, and hightailed out of town as soon as the exit was in sight, so what should’ve gone down as the casino’s event of the season was instead an enjoyable time marred by unfinished business.

* John Mellencamp’s management instituted a strict no-photo policy for this show.

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