Springsteen joins Mellencamp at NJPAC (REVIEW, PHOTOS, SETLIST, VIDEO)

SPRINGSTEEn mellencamp pink houses


John Mellencamp performs at NJPAC in Newark, March 10.

Bruce Springsteen has performed at the New Jersey Performing Arts Center in Newark four times since it opened in 1997. The first three times were at New Jersey Hall of Fame induction ceremonies. And the fourth came March 10, when he made a surprise appearance at John Mellencamp’s Prudential Hall show.

They performed “Pink Houses” together toward the end of the evening; you can watch a video of it below.

Mellencamp introduced The Boss — who has contributed to Mellencamp’s last two studio albums, 2022’s Strictly a One-Eyed Jack and 2023’s Orpheus Descending — as “one of the greatest songwriters of our times.” Casually dressed in a T-shirt and ripped jeans (and sans guitar), Springsteen seemed to be having a great time as the two sang together, and draped an arm around Mellencamp’s shoulders as they sang the final verse.

A bit surprisingly, the one-hour, 45-minute show included just one song from those two recent studio albums: Orpheus Descending‘s heartbreaking song about homelessness, “The Eyes of Portland,” which was preceded by one of Mellencamp’s longest speeches of the nights.

The setlist wasn’t made up only of big hits, though. Mellencamp — whose voice was very gruff but who nevertheless sang with great passion — included some lesser-known material, including “John Cockers” and “Longest Days” (both from 2008’s Life, Death, Love and Freedom) and “Minutes to Memories” (from 1985’s Scarecrow), in the setlist. And the show’s pre-Springsteen peak came when Mellencamp sang the garage-rock classic “Gloria” in a medley with “Crumblin’ Down” to cap a section of the show devoted to Stones-y rock ‘n’ roll, including “Rain on the Scarecrow,” “Lonely Ol Night” and “What If I Came Knocking.”


John Mellencamp at NJPAC.

The opening portion of the show often had a rootsier feel, often featuring Lisa Germano’s violin and keyboardist Troye Kinnett’s accordion; guitarist Mike Wanchic also switched to electric mandolin for “Paper in Fire.”

And the middle of the show was unplugged, with Mellencamp performing “Jack & Diane” and “The Eyes of Portland” alone; playing with only one other musician, guitarist Andy York, on “Longest Days”; and leaving the stage when Germano and Kinnett provided the music as a tape of actress Joanne Woodward reciting Mellencamp’s song “The Real Life” (from 1987’s The Lonesome Jubilee) was played. This continued a cinematic theme, begun earlier, when clips of classic black-and-white movies such as “The Grapes of Wrath,” “Hud,” “The Misfits,” “Giant” and “A Streetcar Named Desire” were shown before Mellencamp and his band took the stage. The stage set’s backdrop evoked “A Streetcar Named Desire” as well, and life-sized mannequins of the four main “Streetcar” characters joined the band onstage.

Mellencamp is not one to drastically revamp his songs. But occasionally he would slow down a line dramatically, to emphasize it. These lines included “Gonna die in this small town/And that’s probably where they’ll bury me” (from “Small Town”) and “All of these homeless, where do they come from?/In this land of plenty where nothing gets done” (from “The Eyes of Portland”). And he practically screamed out the “Eyes of Portland” line, “The fallen and forgotten, who are down on their knees/Living here in the gutters in this land of the free.”


John Mellencamp at NJPAC.

Here is the show’s setlist:

“John Cockers”
“Paper in Fire”
“Minutes to Memories”
“Small Town”
“Human Wheels”
“Jackie Brown”
“Check It Out”
“The Eyes of Portland” (solo)
“Longest Days” (with guitarist Andy York)
“Jack & Diane” (solo)
“The Real Life” (Lisa Germano on violin and Troye Kinnett on accordion provide music as tape of Joanne Woodward reciting song is played)
“Rain on the Scarecrow”
“Lonely Ol’ Night”
“What If I Came Knocking”
“Crumblin’ Down”/”Gloria”
“Pink Houses” (with Bruce Springsteen”)
“Cherry Bomb”
“Hurts So Good”

Joining Germano, Wanchic, York and Kinnett in Mellencamp’s band were bassist John Gunnell and drummer Dane Clark.

Mellencamp will be honored — along Jackson Browne, Mavis Staples and Dion DiMucci — at the second annual American Music Honors event presented by The Bruce Springsteen Archives & Center for American Music at The Pollak Theatre at Monmouth University in West Long Branch, April 24.

Thanks to Howie Chaz of Spring-Nuts for these videos:

Here is a gallery of photos from the show, by Wes Orshoski:

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