New York Times: Three Guys Playing In The Rain, Undaunted And Indefatigable

By Jon Caramanica

LAKEWOOD, N.J. — On paper, the biggest decision the several thousand people milling about FirstEnergy Park here on Thursday evening had to make was whom to cheer loudest for: Willie Nelson, John Mellencamp or the headliner of this unusually packed concert bill, Bob Dylan. But there were far more pressing choices to be made. Jacket, poncho or trash bag. Out in the open near the stage or huddled under awnings far away. Close-toed, open-toed or, riskiest of all, barefoot.

The rain arrived here in a hard spittle long before Mr. Nelson, who opened the show, took the stage, which was erected in deep center field and the only truly dry surface in this stadium, normally home to Lakewood’s minor league baseball team, the BlueClaws. (This was probably the most profitable day of the summer at the souvenir shop, what with all the ponchos and seat covers flying out the door.)

But these three singers were imperturbable, each committed to his particular reading of the American songbook’s purpose. For Mr. Dylan, it’s tradition; for Mr. Mellencamp, inspiration; for Mr. Nelson, emotion.

Of the three performers, none was better suited to the inclement environment than Mr. Mellencamp, who seems more like a revival preacher with each passing year and who was the only one to address the audience at any length: “I made an emergency phone call to God tonight, and said, ‘God, please don’t let it rain.’ ”

Sure enough, the drops came less frequently during Mr. Mellencamp’s middle set of aggressive country-rock peppered with gospel and blues. For an hour he avoided many of his biggest, simplest hits (“Jack and Diane,” “Wild Night” ) in favor of songs about uplift (“Pink Houses”), moral authority (“Paper in Fire”) and struggle (“Authority Song”). A mawkish new number, “Save Some Time to Dream,” was, Mr. Mellencamp said, “recorded in Savannah, Ga., last week in a Baptist church.”

But it turns out the air of spiritual rehabilitation suited him, especially on the haunting “Don’t Need This Body.” Mr. Mellencamp was easily the most physical of the night’s acts as well, a sparkplug leaping around the stage with gusto, his thick hair carving out its own rhythm. He may not yet have earned the right to constantly retool like Mr. Dylan, or to plead genteel obliviousness like Mr. Nelson, but through the wet he showed he was willing to work for it.

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