Star-Telegram: Nelson, Mellencamp and Dylan take Over QuikTrip Park

Willie Nelson, John Mellencamp and Bob Dylan: Three men, three radically different perspectives on American music.

This triumvirate of talent took over center field at QuikTrip Park on Friday night, spending just over 3  1/2 hours entertaining a relaxed crowd in an atmosphere that felt more akin to a family-friendly carnival than a rock concert.

Nelson took the leadoff spot, knocking out a tight 60-minute set that followed all the familiar curves, from opener Whiskey River to the tender and terse guitar solos, as much a Nelson signature as his bandannas and drummer Paul English. In fact, it was a downright frisky performance from the Red-Headed Stranger, doubtless stemming from the fact that the setting sun bore down on Nelson and the gang for their entire time onstage, urging them hastily onward.

Next up, Mellencamp powered his way through an hourlong performance that underscored his metamorphosis from angry young man to ruminative roots-rocker in the autumn of his years. Mellencamp led off with Pink Houses, an ’80s staple that feels renewed in its middle-class defiance, thanks to the recent economic crisis. The singer/songwriter then moved deftly between his hits — one highlight was an a cappella verse of Cherry Bomb — and newer songs, taken from his recent Life, Death, Love and Freedom.

The most radical reconstructionist on the bill was saved for last. Dylan, the night’s headliner, certainly seemed more engaged than in the past, but unfortunately, the set list wasn’t heavy on familiar tunes.

The former Mr. Zimmerman was in a reflective, expansive state of mind, letting his crack backing band ride blues-drenched grooves for what felt like an eternity. While classics like Highway 61 Revisited; Don’t Think Twice, It’s All Right; and All Along the Watchtower made appearances, the bulk of his 90-minute set was given over to more recent work, from albums like this year’s middling Together Through Life.

Dylan’s mangled, glottal tenor weaved drunkenly throughout, as the maestro moved from electric guitar early to plant himself behind the organ for the rest of the show. Sure, there’s still a palpable charge from hearing Like a Rolling Stone live. But judging from the stream of fans exiting the stadium, no one was much interested in hearing what exotic contortions — or was it just a fresh perspective? — were being visited upon it.

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