Hartford Courant: Bob Dylan, Willie Nelson and John Mellencamp Team Up For An Iconic Night In New Britain

By THOMAS KINTNER - Special to the Courant

Bob Dylan's seemingly endless barnstorming finds him once again playing minor league baseball parks, this time around with John Mellencamp and Willie Nelson. The show at New Britain Stadium Wednesday was a dazzling, powerful survey of iconic American music.

Dylan focused on his electric guitar as he warbled out "Rainy Day Women No. 12 and 35" for starters. He shifted to keyboards for the duration, from the jaunty "The Levee's Gonna Break" to the pulsating "Trying To Get to Heaven," inserting a ringing harmonica break into the latter.

Dylan's singing adheres to no classic notions of phrasing but is effective, almost a sonic italicization that placed the words of "High Water (For Charlie Patton)" in sharp relief against their musical backdrop. His voice provided a gravelly centerpiece in "Tweedle Dee and Tweedle Dum" as he and his five-man band segued to a flurry of blues grooves, among them the slow sizzler "Ballad of a Thin Man" and the chugging closer, "Thunder on the Mountain."

An expansive, swaying encore of "Like a Rolling Stone" was just different enough to be a fresh enticement, and the insistent, thumping "All Along the Watchtower," with which he closed the night, was sweetened by its unconventional cadence.

Mellencamp's hourlong set was the most crowd-pleasing, particularly the sturdy middle America rocker "Pink Houses" and the rousing "Paper in Fire," in which the 57-year-old Indiana native — a spring chicken compared with Dylan, 68, and Nelson, 76 — wrestled with the lyrics while a hooting accordion accented the arrangement. He mixed in the familiar with stark offerings from his latest record, contemplations of mortality, such as "Don't Need This Body" and "If I Die Sudden," that gave a fresh edge to his jagged bark.

Nelson, the first of the three featured acts to play, loaded a full show's worth of material into just over an hour in his typically economical fashion. His signature nasal twang climbed above the robust bounce his crack five-piece band and splashed across "Whiskey River," and his loose workout of "Beer for My Horses" sported inimitable character.

Nelson's acoustic guitar work fused bits of jazz and country into his own distinctive brand of Americana, taking the audience on a loose trip through "Georgia On My Mind" before doing a lively take on "Jambalaya (On the Bayou)." Country gospel made for some soaring highlights in his set when he rolled through "Will the Circle Be Unbroken," and closed with the celebratory energy of another Hank Williams number, "I Saw the Light."

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