The CCR survivor prefaces his return to Bethel with a stacked performance in Beantown
I was thinking maybe I’d hit the wall with all the Woodstock 50th anniversary lookbacks going on, but then I took in John Fogerty’s 100-minute concert in Boston Tuesday night and thought, “No, this is good. One more. And, maybe, this is the ultimate take.”
Fogerty is calling this tour “My 50 Year Trip.” He both put Woodstock in perspective and delivered the ultimate baby boomer feel-good show of the summer, reminding us of the human jukebox he and Creedence Clearwater Revival were from 1969 to 1972. CCR peppered the Top 10 with nine Northern California-born, but Southern-fried hits during that era.
It started with “Born on the Bayou” and “Green River” and closed with “Bad Moon Rising” and “Proud Mary.” At times, Fogerty played the same Rickenbacker guitar with a Gibson humbucker pickup that he played in Bethel, NY back when. Hippies from Woodstock often danced on the scrim behind the stage and, for that matter, young neo-hippies (who were part of the show) danced down the aisles at times, tossing plastic love beads and spreading groovy vibes. The three-piece horn section also did some cocky aisle-strutting and horn blowing.
Sure, it dinged the nostalgia bell loud and clear, but Fogerty was clearly having a blast in the here and now, especially during the guitar leads, which he often played with a big smile, his mouth agape. Fogerty, who is 74, scampered around the stage like a man a third his age. In many ways he appeared – same hairstyle and color, same kind of fringed jacket – to be the same guy he was in 1969.
The problems Fogerty had with his ex-bandmates (including his late brother Tom) are well-documented and for years there was a not-at-all-unjustified bitterness about the man’s public persona, especially when he refused to play in concert the hits he wrote on Fantasy Records but did not own publishing rights to.
“It was a horrible career conundrum and choice because it’s suicide to a career,” he told me a few weeks ago. “Your fans want to come see you sing those songs; they don’t want to hear you sing other songs.”
Here’s the funny thing about this tour; Fogerty is playing all the hits but he’s also playing other songs. Other people’s songs. Those songs Fogerty gave the Woodstock celebration more universality. with Fogerty and his nine-piece honoring other participants via sizzling renditions of Sly & the Family Stone’s “Everyday People”/”Dance to the Music,” Joe Cocker’s “With a Little Help From My Friends” (yes, Cocker’s version) and a Hendrix-ian distortion-laced instrumental take on “The Star-Spangled Banner.” Doing the blistering honors on the latter song was Fogerty’s second guitarist, his son, Shane.
Fogerty also covered the Plastic Ono Band’s “Give Peace a Chance.” No, John and Yoko weren’t at Woodstock, but that song was of the same time and mindset and fit perfectly.
Of note: Fogerty did not play any songs from the band that preceded CCR at Woodstock, the Grateful Dead, but did tell the tale. The day was running very long, the Dead not taking the stage until midnight, playing for 45 minutes, breaking for an hour while they took LSD, and then playing another 45 minutes, putting the crowd to sleep as CCR played their 3 AM set. Fogerty found the crowd “naked and asleep – the Grateful Dead had put half a million people to sleep.”
Quite appropriately, given the Woodstock weather, Fogerty played “Who’ll Stop the Rain” after that soliloquy.
Fogerty focused on the CCR material, not his solo career, though “Centerfield” showed up (with plastic baseball-themed beach balls bounced around the crowd) as did “The Old Man Down the Road.” The latter song gave the mutually beaming John and Shane a chance for a rip-snorting Les Paul guitar duel, the licks right out of something Neil Young and Crazy Horse. (Another son, Tayler Fogerty, came out to sing “Good Golly Miss Molly.”)
Speaking of stellar musical moments: I’m no fan of drum solos – it usually signals a restroom break – but the well-muscled Kenny Aronoff (best known as John Mellencamp’s stickman) provided us with a fantastic and frenetic drum solo, accented by flawless quick-cutting by the on-site video director. It was the climax to “Keep On Chooglin’,” which is a nonsense song in some ways, but the ultimate American boogie song in others. Flashpots erupted behind Aronoff at the conclusion.
We all know the extremely bad thing in America that took place simultaneously with Woodstock: the ill-conceived Vietnam War. The song of that war – perhaps both for soldiers and war protesters – was “Fortunate Son” and Fogerty played that as the last song before encores. The Vietnam War images – the soldiers buddying up, the flame-throwers doing their nasty business, the battles raging – flashed on the backing scrim as Fogerty raged: “I ain’t no fortunate one!”
In song, his protagonist is not fortunate. In life, he is. He titled his memoir “Fortunate Son” and he didn’t mean it ironically. He’s at peace with his catalog and his legacy. He’s a proud family man – saluting his wife of 30 years Julie on stage – playing with his two sons, mentioning his teenage daughter. And he’s genuine in his enthusiasm in seeing the pure joy that’s out there in the crowd, taking some pride in knowing he made that happen.
And if you’re wondering, when he got to “Bad Moon Rising” at the end, I sang along to the classic line: “Hey, there’s a bathroom on the right.”
VIDEO: John Fogerty “The Old Man Down The Road”