A tremendous release for fans of John Mellencamp, Plain Spoken – From the Chicago Theatre offers not only an intense audio/visual concert experience, but also an intimate look inside the artist’s life. The feature-length, 16-song concert is presented in two ways: 1) as a straightforward (and frickin’ awesome) heartland rock show, 2) that same show with Mellencamp’s “commentary” running over it. It’s labelled a commentary in the packaging, for lack of a better word I guess. The actual audio sounds like more of a prepared, biographical work rather than what has become the standard “describe what’s on screen” kind of audio track. In other words, this commentary commands attention, with Mellencamp delivering his life story with quiet urgency.
The effect blurs the line between the typical concert film and a documentary. The default option on the Blu-ray, in fact, is to play the concert with the narration. Intrigued, I opted for that on my first viewing and was pleased with the choice. Mellencamp, who once stated with cunning self awareness in a VH-1 Rockumentary that “it’s never been cool to like John Mellencamp,” remains an underrated treasure of American music even after a staggering 40+ years in the business. He has evolved from the 25-year-old corporate rock pawn “Johnny Cougar,” releasing a debut album laced with covers of Elvis Presley’s “Jailhouse Rock” and The Doors’ “Twentieth Century Fox,” to one of the most nuanced, mature, thoughtful singer-songwriters of this or any era.
Mellencamp delivers what amounts to a condensed memoir (the contents of which are found in print form in this package’s booklet). He pauses frequently enough for the concert’s music to come through. The thoughts expressed reflect a wisdom earned over decades by a man who, as he sang on a 1989 hit, “never wanted to be no pop singer.” Some of very specific and personal memories are of his upbringing and early career. But he veers off into deeply-felt artistic philosophy. Listening to him deliver such interesting commentary for 80 minutes, rather than being exhausting, led me to watch the unadorned performance immediately thereafter. By the way, the prepared, organized nature of Mellencamp’s personal narrative commentary ensures that it’s a piece worth returning to, not just a novelty to hear once and forget.
The entire concert is also presented as an audio CD. I love that Eagle Vision often does this with their live concert video releases. Sitting down in front a screen to watch a concert film takes a certain amount of commitment. Many times I’ve watched a great concert video and wished I had a convenient way to listen to the music ‘on the go’—wherever, whenever. The solution, offered by Eagle Vision, is to include the concert as a live album along with the Blu-ray (also available at a more economic price as a standard DVD).
Plain Spoken – From the Chicago Theatre is a class product all the way and essentially viewing/listening for all John Mellencamp fans.
1.) “Lawless Times” (Plain Spoken 2014)
2.) “Troubled Man” (Plain Spoken)
3.) “Minutes to Memories” (Scarecrow 1985)
4.) “Small Town” (Scarecrow)
5.) “Stones in My Passway” (Trouble No More 2005)
6.) “Pop Singer” (Big Daddy 1989)
7.) “Check It Out” (The Lonesome Jubilee 1987)
8.) “Longest Days” (Life, Death, Love and Freedom 2008)
9.) “The Full Catastrophe” (Mr. Happy Go Lucky 1996)
10.) “My Soul’s Got Wings” (Sad Clowns and Hillbillies 2017)
11.) “Overture” (Mr. Happy Go Lucky)
12.) “Rain on the Scarecrow” (Scarecrow)
13.) “Paper in Fire” (The Lonesome Jubilee)
14.) “Authority Song” (Uh-Huh 1983)
15.) “Pink Houses” (Uh-Huh)
16.) “Cherry Bomb” (The Lonesome Jubilee)