John Fogerty – House of Blues (West Hollywood, CA)
Creedence Clearwater Revival’s Willie & the Poor Boys was probably the first rock music to sneak into my psyche. It was a reel-to-reel copy which, alongside tapes by Neil Diamond, O.C. Smith and Bread, comprised my father’s music collection. I remember spending hours staring at the cool album cover — four hippie white guys strumming away on a dusty street corner while a young African American kid digs the groove — much more vividly than I remember hearing the music itself. Nonetheless, I am sure it invaded my brain and found a permanent spot in my memory banks. 25 years later, I blame John Fogerty, Tom Fogerty, Stu Cook, Doug Clifford and my father for this twang-rock obsession of mine.
How my accountant father got into CCR, I could not fathom. Neil Diamond’s Hot August Night, that made sense to me, but I always thought Creedence was a pretty hip thing (sorry pa), if for no other reason than because I deemed them influential at one point during my rock ‘n’ roll education, and influential, as I deduced, meant they must have been for those “in the know.” (Duh.) But the rabid crowd who gathered at the House of Blues for this show shattered such intimate ideas. It was a very mainstream, boomerish crowd, the twice-a-year concertgoing types, ready to party like they were seeing Jimmy Buffett extolling the virtues of margaritas at the (your city here) summer fest. It was the reminder that Creedence’s tunes were not only soulful, politically charged and musically groundbreaking back in 1970, they were also all over the radio.
On this night, John Fogerty rolled out the hits as if he were doing a late-night TV advertisement for a K-TEL collection. First came “Born on the Bayou”, then “Green River”, “Lodi”, “Looking Out My Back Door” and “Suzie Q”, all before Fogerty moved into the ’90s with a song from his new solo album, Blue Moon Swamp. Dressed like an extra from “The Dukes of Hazzard” in all denim and a red bandanna choker, Fogerty smiled proudly from the edge of the stage and sang with a ferocity that could not have been expected from someone who had done absolutely nothing that registered on the public’s radar in the last decade.
It was the early performance of “Lodi” that proved most poignant, not only because of the vibrancy of the effort, but because of lines like, “Somewhere I lost connection, I ran out of songs to play.” A lonesome tune about a two-bit musician stuck in a two-bit town, on this evening it might as well have been in reference to Fogerty’s own receding career. Because of his bitter, well-publicized legal battle with Fantasy Records kingpin Saul Zaentz, Fogerty had sworn off performing Creedence songs soon after the band called it quits in 1972. Plus, Swamp is only his fourth solo album in 25 years, his first in 11. Therefore, like the character in the song, Fogerty had pretty much run out of songs to play. But on this night, the classics were finally back in the repertoire. “Oh Lord, stuck in Lodi again” couldn’t have felt more joyful.
After the initial rush of hits, Fogerty and his four-piece backing band, which included veteran drummer Kenny Aronoff, settled in to the task of showcasing much of the new album. Cuts such as the dobro-fied “Joy of My Life” and the rockabilly-tinged “Southern Streamline” held up nicely against the Creedence classics. Others though, fell short of the achieving that magic, much like Swamp as a whole. Later, Fogerty resorted to schmaltz by playing a guitar in the shape of a baseball bat on the overblown, boomer anthem “Centerfield” and insisted on repeatedly delivering the “Do you feel all right?” between-song banter. Late-set renditions of “Heard It Through the Grapevine” and “Bad Moon Rising” conjured up images of dancing grapes and werewolves, respectively. These tracks proved a bit too classic (i.e., tired). Nonetheless, the crowd ate ’em up, happily reliving Haight-Ashbury glory-days images.
At the same time, songs such as “Lodi”, “Who’ll Stop The Rain” and “Long As I Can See The Light” sounded both timeless and contemporary. Any average alt-country band — hell, even some of the better ones — would die to have one such gem in its canon, and Fogerty has what seems like dozen from which to choose. Forget Gram, Neil and that Uncle Tupelo band I’ve heard so much about, Fogerty is the torchbearer.
Case in point: Early in the 29-song set, Fogerty brought out the legendary Fairfield Four (whose head count totaled five), to add some stirring gospel tinges to the new “A Hundred and Ten in the Shade” and CCR’s “Midnight Special”. Other boomer rockers might have used the opportunity to showcase a VH1-type laundry list of stars for the backup role, but Fogerty featured the oldest living gospel group on the planet. It was classic Fogerty, bringing deep American roots to the mainstream audience, much as he did with Creedence nearly three decades earlier.