John Mellencamp | Chicago Theatre | Rock, Pop, Etc | Chicago Reader

John Mellencamp Early Warnings (Music) Soundboard

When: Fri., Nov. 26, 6:30 p.m. and Sat., Nov. 27, 6:30 p.m. 2010

John Mellencamp's latest, No Better Than This (Rounder), was recorded by T-Bone Burnett with a single microphone and a 55-year-old Ampex tape machine in three iconic locations: Sun Studios in Memphis, the First African Baptist Church in Savannah, and Room 414 of the Gunter Hotel in San Antonio, where Robert Johnson cut his first sides. Sincere as it may be, the concept flirts with shtick, but by and large the material prevents that impression from sticking. Mellencamp's songwriting touches on various stripes of Americana, and he nods to prewar conventions by mostly doing away with proper choruses in favor of refrains; distinctive players like guitarist Marc Ribot, fiddler Miriam Sturm, and percussionist Jay Bellerose bring the raw arrangements to life. Though his lyrics don't peg the songs to any particular era, they still capture the brooding darkness of America's present and recent past—and even better, they don't try to balance it out with cornball heartland optimism. These shows will be preceded by screenings of the Kurt Markus documentary It's About You, which chronicles a 2009 tour of minor-league baseball stadiums by Mellencamp, Bob Dylan, and Willie Nelson. —Peter Margasak

Price: $42.50-$125

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