Even before he took the stage to close out the inaugural New American Music Union festival, Bob Dylan cast an exceptionally large shadow over the proceedings. The fest, organized by American Eagle and presented around the corner from their corporate headquarters in Pittsburgh, featured an eclectic lineup whose musical DNA could all be traced back to the most American of genres: the blues. It was in the Roots’ hard-times funk and the Black Keys’ garage noise on Friday night and in the barroom soul of Spoon, the space-hop of Gnarls Barkley and the muscular arena thump of the Raconteurs on Saturday. Dylan provided the first-person account of the early blues — a generation-bridging link to the past.
Saturday’s highlights included Spoon’s set, where Britt Daniel crooned and spat over his band’s horn-soaked grooves on “You Got Yr Cherry Bomb,” “Don’t Make Me a Target” and the always-excellent “I Turn My Camera On.” The Raconteurs’ extended jams on “Rich Kid Blues,” “Blue Veins” and “Top Yourself” were big enough to fill stadiums, and Jack White bellowed and strutted like a truly killer frontman. Dylan focused mostly on more recent material but dropped in stripped-down variations of some of his classics like “Tangled Up in Blue” and the festival-closing “Like a Rolling Stone.” Never picking up a guitar (he mostly played keys) and constantly making jokes to himself, Dylan proved that he’s the best kind of old bluesman: a knowing outlaw with a never-ending bag of tricks.