John Cougar, Johnny Cougar, John Cougar Mellencamp, John Mellencamp. Regardless of what you call him, there’s no question as to why he is in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.

Last Saturday night in Austin, Mellencamp made one of his two Texas appearances for his current “No Better Than This” tour. When you couple Mellencamp’s great stage presence with the new Moody Theatre on Willie Nelson Boulevard (2nd Street) in downtown Austin, you knew it was going to be a great show. Although, there was apprehension on our part on how Mellencamp was going to integrate his new project cd/album into his show, in the end it was a flawless presentation.

The album, “No Better Than This”, was recorded at First African Baptist Church in Savannah, Georgia as well as at the Sun Studio in Memphis and the Sheraton Gunter Hotel in San Antonio, where blues pioneer Robert Johnson recorded "Sweet Home Chicago" and "Crossroad Blues". Mellencamp recorded the album using a 1955 Ampex portable recording machine and only one microphone, requiring all the musicians to gather together around the microphone. The album was recorded in mono. Mellencamp wrote over 30 songs for the record (only 13 made the final cut), and he wrote one song specifically for Room 414 at the Gunter Hotel, “Right Behind Me”, where legend has it that it was Robert Johnson’s last known place to record. This album peaked at #10 on Billboard’s Hot 100 after it was released in August 2010. It was Mellencamp’s tenth Top 10 album to make the charts and the first all mono recording to make the top ten since 1964 when James Brown peaked at #10 with “Pure Dynamite-Live at the Royal.”

Mellencamp took the stage with little fanfare and immediately started the set with selections from the “No Better Than This” album. The crowd accepted this enthusiastically and for the most part, the audience never sat down for the rest of the two hour performance. The selections on the album are borderline depressing but with true Mellencamp sarcasm and on the edge view of life. The live performances of those selections appeared to be more upbeat, which for the most part would happen for a live performance. Even the percussion used in this set seemed to be something from the 1930’s keeping it as close as possible to the true production of the CD. We noticed that there was one amp with a microphone draped over the front side possible lending all audio to be fed from one source.

And then the classic Mellencamp took over after 45 minutes when the 59 year old performer began to only scratch the surface of his huge hit song catalog. Mellencamp never let the crowd down and performed the classics with (in no particular order) among which were “Little Pink Houses”, “Jack and Diane”, “Walk Tall”, “Crumblin’ Down”, “Small Town”, “Authority Song”, “Paper in Fire”, “Jackie Brown”, and ultimately ending his show with “R. O. C. K in the U. S. A.” when Mellencamp pulled a young teen aged boy from the crowd and at first had him dancing with him during this song, then by singing the chorus with him of the song, and then to the surprise of the crowd, this thirteen year old kid wowed the crowd by singing a verse by himself and knowing the lyrics completely. Even Mellencamp seemed surprised at this young man’s ability to recite the words.

This portion of the concert completely humanized Mellencamp as he rubbed the top of the kid’s head and sent him back into the crowd… sadly it became the last song of the concert with Mellencamp not returning for the obligatory encore. But with that said, there was nothing disappointing about the concert at all, it just came down to the thought that you didn’t want it to end because all of us there were “Ain’t Even Done With The Night”.

Thoughts on the new Moody Theatre: This is a first class venue. Acoustically correct and aesthetically pleasing. Literally, there are no bad seats in this 2,700+ seat auditorium. What a prize for the Live Music Capital of the World. General Manager of Austin City Limits at the Moody Theatre, Tim Neece, points out that it is only the second green venue in the country to be USGBC LEED rated and it has all state of the art sound and lighting. Upcoming acts for ACL Moody Theatre include Jeff Beck, Heart, A Day To Remember, Jonny Lang/George Thorogood & the Destroyers, Tony Bennett, Moody Blues, Blue October, Bruce Hornsby, Jackson Browne, Cracker with Camper Van Beethoven and Widespread Panic .

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