Air Canada Centre, Toronto - February 6, 2008

-- Sun Media

, Last Updated: 4:27 AM ET

TORONTO -- Who knew that John Mellencamp, a heartland rocker in his mid-50s known as much for supporting political and social causes as his music, would still be so relevant in 2008, almost three decades after the height of his popularity?

His latest hit, Our Country, from his year-old album, Freedom's Road, is up for a Grammy on Sunday night in L.A. for best solo rock vocal performance and he'll be inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame next month.

And while the pride of Indiana may have gotten older, there's still fire in his belly as he more than proved last night at the Air Canada Centre.

"I wrote this song at age 23, I still feel the same way at age 56!" said Mellencamp before launching into Authority Song, the encore number that nicely wrapped up a spirited, heartfelt show.

About an hour-and-45-minutes earlier, Mellencamp and his six-person band -- including a female fiddler -- opened the evening just as strong with such uber-hits as Pink Houses, Paper in Fire, Lonely Ol' Night and Check it Out.

Playing on a square stage tilted in a diamond-shape with the point where Mellencamp stood closest to the crowd, the diminutive rocker knew how to handle himself.

Whether he was doing his cute little dance shuffle, or playing acoustic guitar on his own for a four-song solo set -- Be the Best You Can, Small Town, A Ride Back Home (Hey Jesus) and Young Without Lovers (the latter two from his upcoming disc, Life, Death, Love and Freedom) -- Mellencamp was clearly comfortable in the spotlight.

"I'm surprised anybody showed up with all this snow," he said of the raging storm outside, before the one-time John Edwards supporter got political.

"How many people here are in their 30s? This world is yours to inherit.

You've seen what my generation has done with it. I hope you'll correct it. (Soon) Bush will be gone!"

When Mellencamp was joined by his band again, it was back to more audience-pleasers like Rain on the Scarecrow, and new Life, Death, Love and Freedom tunes like If I Die Sudden and Jena. The latter song was inspired by the racial unrest in Jena, La., with Mellencamp remembering the discrimination he witnessed against his black bandmate when he toured with a soul band as a 14-year- old.

"Bigotry and hatred are terrible things for people to have inside their soul," said Mellencamp. "We need to show each other compassion."

Once he'd finished his preaching, he got back to performing such barnburning standouts as Crumblin' Down, R.O.C.K. In The U.S.A. -- which featured Mellencamp leaving the stage to go-go dance amongst the crowd -- and Jack and Diane complete with a mass cellphone call by the audience.

Opening act and fellow '80s rocker Tom Cochrane, meanwhile, just scored a Juno nomination this week for his new album, No Stranger, but seemed genuinely excited about making his Air Canada Centre debut last night with his four bandmates.

"Now if the Leafs could just get their s--t together," joked the 55-year-old singer-songwriter-guitarist, who grew up in Etobicoke.

Cochrane sure knew how to work the crowd, telling stories about meeting "strong women in Toronto," falling in love for the first time in Northern Ontario -- and getting the crowd to chime in on such hits as Sinking Like A Sunset, Big League, The Untouchable One, White Hot, and No Regrets.

He even joked about Nashville country act Rascal Flatts -- who play the ACC tonight -- making a huge hit out of his song, Life Is A Highway, for the second time in 2006, before ending his set with it.


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