The Oregonian: Bob Dylan and John Mellencamp at McMenamins Edgefield Show Review

The Oregonian By Jeff Baker

Midway through Bob Dylan's uptempo set at McMenamins Edgefield Saturday night, he interrupted his string of reworked classics from the 1960s and reached way deeper into the past.

"The Levee's Gonna Break" is Dylan's take on "When the Levee Breaks," a 1929 song by Kansas Joe McCoy and Memphis Minnie that was famously covered on Led Zeppelin's fourth album. Dylan added new lyrics when he put it on his 2006 album "Modern Times" and gave it a peppy, countrified arrangement that was accentuated in concert, with electric mandolin, a standup bass, and Dylan bopping away behind his keyboards. It was an unusual choice for an outdoor show where a sold-out crowd sat on lawn chairs and sipped wine: Was Dylan making a comment on the fifth anniversary of Hurricane Katrina, or the recent flooding in Pakistan, or was he just burrowing into his vast songbook for a little something different?

Whatever he was doing, he wasn't saying anything about it. Dylan has always let his music speak for itself, and other than a single line -- "well, thank you, friends" -- before introducing his band, he didn't say a word. Dylan will play more than 100 shows this year, including one at a dog track in Post Falls, Idaho, later this week, and one audience must look just like another to him after almost 50 years on the road. Those wanting to make a connection have to make an effort. He does his part by showing up with a tight band and keeping his music fresh by changing the arrangements and phrasings; it's up to each listener to do the rest.

John Mellencamp, on the other hand, is more than willing to reach out and touch his fans. Mellencamp opened for Dylan with a high-energy, hits-heavy set that played to what the crowd wanted. Mellencamp is 58, with a heart attack in his past and a smoking habit so heavy that his son started a Facebook campaign to get his dad to quit. It hasn't worked (Mellencamp was puffing away during a break), but he looks and sounds great. He danced around the stage like a banty rooster, Foghorn Leghorn on performance-enhancing corn, and sang with conviction and power. "Little Pink Houses" and "Paper in Fire" got everyone up and moving, and "Save Some Time to Dream" and the title track to his excellent new album "No Better Than This" reminded them that he is not a nostalgia act but a vital songwriter who keeps pushing his art in new directions.

If Dylan can effortlessly channel Kansas Joe McCoy and Memphis Minnie -- and he looks old enough to have jammed with them -- then Mellencamp can meet blues legends on their sacred ground. "No Better Than This" was recorded, among other places, at Sun Studios in Memphis and in the same Texas hotel room where Robert Johnson recorded "Cross Road Blues." Mellencamp gave people what they wanted -- an acoustic version of "Cherry Bomb," sing-alongs on "Small Town" and "Authority Song" -- while keeping himself amused and creatively fulfilled.

Dylan doesn't do sing-alongs. The Edgefield audience tried during "Just Like a Woman" but Dylan sang so far behind the beat that they were done with the refrain before he started. His live shows can be maddening for those in love with the recorded versions and can make his old songs unintelligible or revelatory, depending on the song and the mood of the listener. "It's All Over Now, Baby Blue" was revamped with pedal steel, "Tangled Up in Blue" and "Ballad of a Thin Man" had Dylan center stage, ripping into harp solos, and "Highway 61 Revisited" featured some passable keyboard action from the old workhorse. Guitarist Charlie Sexton, back in the band for only a few days when Dylan played Memorial Coliseum last fall, was front and center at Edgefield, goading Dylan and playing off him.

Dylan has never been afraid to share the bill with those he considers his musical peers. Van Morrison, Joni Mitchell, Phil Lesh, Merle Haggard, Paul Simon and Willie Nelson, among others, have toured with Dylan in recent years. Mellencamp and Dylan engaged the audience in different ways on Saturday and from the way the crowd reacted, Mellencamp was more successful. Lots of people packed up their blankets and trudged to their cars before the show was over at 10 p.m., not responding to what they were hearing or maybe just a little chilly on the last weekend in August. Dylan wrapped up with a spirited "Jolene" and "Like a Rolling Stone," then got on the bus. There was another show at Edgefield on Sunday, and more shows in more towns after that one.

John Mellencamp’s setlist:

“Little Pink Houses”
“Paper in Fire”
“No Better Than This”
“Check It Out”
“Save Some Time To Dream”
“Cherry Bomb”
“Don’t Need This Body”
“Small Town”
“Rain on the Scarecrow”
“Troubled Land”
”If I Die Sudden”
“Crumblin’ Down”
“Authority Song”